User Profile

Jens Finkhäuser

Joined 1 year, 8 months ago

Trying to build a better Internet. In the meantime, I enjoy reading.

I'm elsewhere on the fediverse (I only follow other bookwyrm accounts here).

FYI, I'm shelving books in "Dad's Library" that my father owns, which I will eventually receive. We have a long-standing agreement that he will give me his SF&F, or I inherit them eventually.

This link opens in a pop-up window

Donella H. Meadows, Diana Wright: Thinking in Systems (2008) 4 stars

In any commons system there is, first of all, a resource that is commonly shared (the pasture). For the system to be subject to the tragedy [of the commons], the resource must not only be limited, but erodable when overused. That is, beyond some threshold, the less resource there is, the less it is able to regenerate itself, or the more likely it is to be destroyed. (..). Another reinforcing feedback loop running downhill.

A commons system also needs users of the resource (the cows and their owners), which have good reason to increase, and which increase at a rate that is not influenced by the condition of the commons. The individual herdsman has no reason, no incentive, no strong feedback, to let the possibility of overgrazing stop him from adding another cow to the common pasture. To the contrary, he or she has everything to gain.

Thinking in Systems by , (Page 117)

The climate crisis is a systems failure, in particular, a failure of information flow.

Nature just absorbs too much damage (more or less) invisibly for too long. Which means we have to make this damage visible in the form of an immediate, strong feedback.

The personal carbon footprint is a strategy invented by Big Oil to distract from the fact that they produce more carbon than we ever will; it creates a sense of individual responsibility to avoid corporate responsibility.

Yes, that's bad. But I'm not sure that is all bad. We've been separating rubbish for recycling in Germany for a decade or more before the carbon footprint term was coined. But in places where that wasn't happening, it's also the buzzword we use to remind each other that damage occurs even when no feedback is given.

I don't think this is a sufficient substitute for finding such forms of …

Ben Tarnoff: Internet for the People (Paperback, 2021, Verso Books) 4 stars

In Internet for the People, leading tech writer Ben Tarnoff offers an answer. The internet …

For such efforts to be successful, they must blur the line between technology's creators and its users, and eventually aspire to make the two categories indistinguishable. Expertise would no longer be defined in an exclusively technical sense: some people are experts in programming, others in design, still others in their daily lives.

Internet for the People by  (Page 169)

This on networks of small cooperatives or non-profits replacing larger institutions.

I mean, this isn't exactly about FOSS, though in a sense it is. But I can't help but think that this is how FOSS is currently failing hard in most examples I can think of: it's rarely very friendly to the latter categories of people.

I struggle to think of making a system successful where programmers are users and vice versa, largely because I have a good idea of how much specialized expertise lower level programming requires. Even if at the user interface level, the UI becomes so easily and thoroughly customizable that programmers and users use the same tools and techniques, and are thus indistinguishable, it is likely that a level of abstraction or two lower, that is just not effective any longer.

Still, that's in a hypothetical complete system. FOSS often fails to even engage fairly with …

Ben Tarnoff: Internet for the People (Paperback, 2021, Verso Books) 4 stars

In Internet for the People, leading tech writer Ben Tarnoff offers an answer. The internet …

Abolitionists are not just trying to decrease the number of cops and prisons until both disappear. They are also coming up with better ways of keeping people safe.

To do so, Davis argues, it's essential to "let go of the desire to discover one single alternative system of punishment." The point is not to replace prisons with pseudo-prisons (...), but to assemble a "constellation of alternative strategies and institutions" (..).

(..). together they can form a fabric that can "lay claim to the space now occupied" by the institutions that abolitionists are working to eradicate.

Davis and her abolitionists give us the basic blueprint for deprivatizing the upper floors of the internet.

Internet for the People by  (Page 156 - 157)

If that isn't a metaphor for the fediverse vs. big social media, I don't know what is.

But also, I like that this celebrates diversity and small scale. A bunch of worker cooperatives instead of a large consulting firm, etc.

Ben Tarnoff: Internet for the People (Paperback, 2021, Verso Books) 4 stars

In Internet for the People, leading tech writer Ben Tarnoff offers an answer. The internet …

Yet the political economy preferred by the New Brandeisians isn't a particularly radical departure from the present. They still want an internet ruled by markets, albeit one where markets are competitive rather than concentrated. The pursuit of profit would remain the organizing principle, but profit would be pursued by smaller and more entrepreneurial firms. And they believe that such a restructuring would go a long way toward addressing the concerns raised by the techlash.

But would it? Nick Srniceck notes that more competition could very well make things worse. "After all, it's competition -- not size -- that demands more data, more attention, more engagement and more profits at all costs," he writes.

Internet for the People by  (Page 152)

First off, "techlash", lovely term.

I find this a very insightful analysis of why a lot of tech related policy today seems off base. It's not the size of the company that matters, but the size of the data pool they've collected.

(More precisely, it's the degree of linkage within the pool, but let's not get technical.)

Ben Tarnoff: Internet for the People (Paperback, 2021, Verso Books) 4 stars

In Internet for the People, leading tech writer Ben Tarnoff offers an answer. The internet …

Content warning violence/death mention

Ben Tarnoff: Internet for the People (Paperback, 2021, Verso Books) 4 stars

In Internet for the People, leading tech writer Ben Tarnoff offers an answer. The internet …

(..). "people engaged in captured activity can engage in an infinite variety of sequences of action, provided these sequences are composed of the unitary elements and means of combination prescribed by the grammar of action." In other words, one of the virtues of a grammar is the sense of freedom it allows. This sense of freedom helps explain why people find social media pleasurable. Even as their interactions are being subtly (or unsubtly) structured by the design of the user interface and the code underneath, they enjoy a feeling of autonomy (..).

Internet for the People by  (Page 95)

To be clear, it's not possible to provide a computer system without such a grammar: in the final instance, the machine instructions provide one.

But not all grammars are Turing complete. It may be that this is an aspect that differentiates a tethered appliance from a generative system: the extent to which the grammar allows the construction of new, more specialized grammars.

Something we see in Fediverse development at the moment is a discussion about the extent to which ActivityPub should or should not impose traditional social media interactions upon the protocol, as opposed to merely modelling that some activities are responses to others, keeping any details unspecified. Arguable the latter provides for more of a generative system than the former.

Ben Tarnoff: Internet for the People (Paperback, 2021, Verso Books) 4 stars

In Internet for the People, leading tech writer Ben Tarnoff offers an answer. The internet …

This book reads very much like a sequel to The Future of the Internet, written about 1.5 decades ago. Where Future of the Internet predicts the current internet and provides reasoning for this prediction, Internet for the People describes it and offers a way out.

Unsurprisingly, the way out is much the same as the approach the older book offers to prevent today's Internet.

If you will read only one book, read this one. That said, Future of the Internet offers a better explanation of the mechanism of generative systems vs. tethered appliances, and is worth a read from that point of view alone.

Jonathan Zittrain: The Future of the Internet (2009, Penguin Books, Limited) 3 stars

This book, albeit a little dated by now, explores well the history of why the Internet of today is as it is. As such, it reads a little like a prequel to the newer Internet for the People.

If you will read only one, read the latter.

However, Tarnoff's book is not as clear on the mechanism of generative systems vs. tethered appliances. Here, Future of the Internet has something else to offer.

Donella H. Meadows, Diana Wright: Thinking in Systems (2008) 4 stars

This is a hard to summarise book. It was recommended to me by a mate friend who realised I liked to engage in systems thinking, and had a name for it.

The book introduces you to a lot of concepts and experiences with systems thinking, but it's not a how-to guide. As you progress through the book, it becomes ever more apparent that such a guide could not really exist.

It confirms more or less how I see systems - which is good, because apparently there are more people like me. And bad, because there wasn't all that much to learn from it.

That said, I think in quite a few instances, the phrasing of one issue or another is significantly better than any of my own. I may quote this book a lot in future.

Donella H. Meadows, Diana Wright: Thinking in Systems (2008) 4 stars

But, if there are local limits, eventually will there be global ones?

I'll leave you to have this argument with yourself, or with someone of the opposite persuasion. I will just point out that, according to the dynamics of depletion, the larger the stock of initial resources, the more new discoveries, the longer the growth loops elude the control loops, and the higher the capital stock and its extraction rate grow, and the earlier, faster and farther will be the economic fall on the back side of the production peak.

Thinking in Systems by , (Page 65)

This on a fossil fuel (oil) extraction based economy.

Thanks, we're living it.

Ben Tarnoff: Internet for the People (Paperback, 2021, Verso Books) 4 stars

In Internet for the People, leading tech writer Ben Tarnoff offers an answer. The internet …

This is the (almost) perfect update to Jonathan Zittrain's "The Future of the Internet" which was published in 2008 and predicts almost precisely what Tarnoff describes as the current state of affairs.

There are some differences, however. Where Zittrain focuses on markets and technology, Tarnoff leaves technology a little behind and brings social dynamics and politics more into play. The two books together provide a pretty well rounded picture.

Then, Tarnoff's focus on social dynamics also permit for a better "way out" to be described. Unfortunately, this is left somewhat vague - an approach which is consistent with the view he puts forward that many differing views are required to shape the future, but also an approach that may seem a little unsatisfying at times.

Overall, if you wanted to pick up one book on the state and future of the Internet, this is it. There are tons of references …

Devon Price: Unmasking Autism (2022, Octopus Publishing Group) 5 stars

The book was almost entirely unsurprising to me, which is a compliment.

It captures a variety of topics of the autistic experience, often through the lens of some autistic person's life story. While these individual stories differ strongly from my own, the underlying patterns explored through them are deeply familiar.

The compliment here is that this approach works - it covers a wide area by it's use of more focused examples, wide enough to either find yourself (or not). And the examples also humanize the experiences in a way you wouldn't achieve without their specifics.

That said, by covering a lot of ground, it's also not the resource that you want when you'd like to dig deeper into one topic or another. The good news is, there are plenty of references in the last section to go for that.

Devon Price: Unmasking Autism (2022, Octopus Publishing Group) 5 stars

Transphobic people often take the strong association between gender variance and Autism as a sign that we aren't "really" trans, we're "just" Autistic and confused. They presume Autistic people are un-self-aware and easily manipulated, and therefore shouldn't be allowed to make decisions about our identities or what we do with our bodies. When Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling published the piece "TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) Wars" on her blog in the summer of 2020, she specifically mentioned her fear that many transgender men are actually Autistic girls who weren't conventionally feminine, and have been influenced by transactivists on the internet into identifying out of womanhood. In presenting herself as defending disabled "girls", she argued for restricting young trans Autistic people's ability to self-identify, and access necessary services and health care.

Rowling's perspective (which she shares with many gender critical folks) is deeply dehumanizing to both the trans and Autistic communities. We're fully fledged, complex people, who are entitled to the same body autonomy and self-determination as anyone else. And it's meaningless to question whether a trans Autistic person would have "still" been trans had they not been born neurodiverse, because Autism is such a core part of who we are. Without our disability (or our gender identity), we'd be entirely different people. There is no separating these aspects of ourselves from our personhood or personality. They're both core parts.

Unmasking Autism by  (Page 59)

Two thoughts:

  1. It's good to be seen.
  2. Rowling and her ilk are embracing Nazi ideology by treating our experience as sub-human.

I was vaguely hoping she was just a little confused. But no. She's seems like a bona fide villain. Voldemort must be her true hero.