An an AgoraFest organizer I’m sometimes asked what makes it different from the other freedom festivals out there. I decided to pen a postmortem of AgoraFest 2015 that explains what makes the event unique.
Month: September 2015
The Illusion Of Choice
Like Christmas, presidential elections seem to assault our world earlier every cycle. The 2016 presidential election is still more than a year away but is already clogging our news feeds with coverage. At the rate things are going the 2020 presidential election will begin ramping up before the 2016 election has even concluded!
What’s especially frustrating is how irrelevant elections are. I know, people will tell you this election is the most important election in our nation’s history. Republicans will argue that any of their candidates, no matter how sickening they may be, are a better alternative to Hillary or Bernie. Democrats will claim the country is doomed if any of the Republican candidates wins. The Green and Libertarian parties are apparently suing in the hopes of getting their candidates the same national coverage the Republican and Democratic candidates enjoy. And throughout all of this you will have to suffer friends, family members, and pretty much everybody else telling you how you need to vote.
Herein lies the problem, there is no choice. There are multiple candidates but that’s different than a choice. A choice would be a ballot box for abolishing offices or the entire government. But no ballot in the United States, as far as I know, has an option for abolishing an office. Your “choices” are to either be ruled or be ruled.
This is why I can’t bring myself to give a damn about any election. I have no interest in being ruled. The only interest I have is to advance individual freedom, which cannot be realized through elections.
Once Data Is Retained You Lose All Control
Apologists for the National Security Agency (NSA) claim that Americans have no need to worry since the agency’s focus is on foreigners. Sometimes they even claim that the NSA cannot legally act on any of the domestic communications it collects so there is no danger to Americans regardless of how expansive its surveillance apparatus is. These arguments are irrelevant though because once your data is retained you have no control over how it is used.
Case in point, the NSA has been sharing data with domestic law enforcement agencies:
The Justice Department is investigating the FBI’s use of information taken directly from mass surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA)’s collection of telephone metadata.
Another ongoing Justice Department investigation is examining the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s use of “parallel construction.”
Parallel construction is a controversial investigative technique that takes information gained from sources like the NSA’s mass surveillance, covers up or lies about the sources, and then utilizes them in criminal investigations inside the United States. The information was passed to other federal agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
While the NSA itself may be restricted to some extent from using any data it collects on domestic individuals there is nothing stopping it from handing that data to an agency that isn’t. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are all agencies that can act on data collected on domestic individuals by the NSA. Furthermore, due to the secrecy of the NSA’s program, these domestic law enforcers can made defending against any collected data extremely difficult. You only have a right to face your accuser publicly if your accuser isn’t hiding behind the nebulous label of “national security,” after all.
AgoraFest’s Mesh Network
AgoraFest happens at Villa Maria, which is a retreat in Frontenac, Minnesota. There’s a lot of things to like about the location but Internet connectivity isn’t one of them. For the most part the only Internet accessibility is in the castle. None of the cabins have Internet connectivity and you’re out of luck getting it via your phone unless you have Verizon.
Because we’re modern day agorists we want Internet connectivity. After all, how else can we use Bitcoin or quickly look up the spot price of silver and gold? To solve this I was charged with creating a mesh network.
Mesh networks, for those of you who don’t know, are networks where each node is capable of connecting directly to every other node. The advantages of this kind of setup the lack of central failure points. It also allows you to expand a wireless network as far as you have nodes.
Commotion Wireless is a firmware built on OpenWRT that aims to make setting up mesh networks simple. I loaded this firmware onto a series of Ubiquiti NanoStations and PicoStations. The NanoStations are directional and have an advertised maximum range of five kilometers and the PicoStations are omnidirectional and have an advertised maximum range of 500 meters. Both are outdoor rated so weather conditions such as rain don’t require us to shutdown the network.
In all we used four NanoStations and five PicoStations for the setup. With this setup we were able to extend the Internet connectivity at the castle to all three cabins and a tent we setup for flying drones and launching model rockets. Speeds weren’t great because the Internet service at the Villa isn’t fast but we managed to get a reliable connection spread across a pretty wide area.
Setting up a mesh network wasn’t only a good idea technically, it helped demonstrate the feasibility of mesh networks to attendees. I gave a talk about mesh networks at AgoraFest, which included my overarching plan to get networks to establish mesh networks and eventually interconnect them to bypass centralized Internet service providers. In other words I want what Guifi has accomplished in Catalonia. Obviously that will take a great deal of convincing, resources, and effort but there’s no better place to find a group of willing people than AgoraFest.
Good News For Catalonia
Revolution is an art that I pursue rather than a goal I expect to achieve. Nor is this a source of dismay; a lost cause can be as spiritually satisfying as a victory. — Professor Bernardo de la Paz
In a world populated by compliant serfs it’s nice to know the spirit of revolution is still alive and well somewhere. The autonomous Spanish community of Catalonia has voted in favor of secession:
The main separatist alliance and a smaller nationalist party won 72 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament.
However, the pro-independence parties fell just short of getting 50% of the vote, winning 1.9 million out of 4 million ballots cast.
The separatists say the victory gives them a clear mandate to form an independent Catalan state.
Spain’s central government in Madrid has pledged to challenge any unilateral moves towards independence in court.
Predictably the Spanish government doesn’t want to lose its most valuable economic asset. Its court first said Catalonia couldn’t hold the vote, which was duly ignored. Spain may even be readying troops to take the region if it secedes but that’s currently only a speculation.
I’m just happy to see people are willing to separate themselves from their overlords. Scotland had the chance and threw it away but Catalonia seems willing to give Spain the finger whenever the opportunity arises. Hopefully this attitude doesn’t change and Catalonia ends up seceding from Spain.
I’m Officially A Published Author
AgoraFest, Minnesotas little liberty event, has concluded. I’ll probably be writing about the event itself throughout the week but right now I’m really fucking tired and need to take a day or two off from thinking about the event. As with anything worth doing, AgoraFest was a lot of work and I only had to build and maintain the mesh.
But I wanted to share some good news right away. I’m officially a published author. Last year at AgoraFest a group of individuals, some of them actual published authors, came up with an idea for a short story compilation of speculative anarchist fiction. That is how Anarchy Rising: The Clarion Call, Vol 1 came into being and my story, the Peacekeepers, made the cut.
I’m not going to claim this is a great anthology because that wouldn’t be honest. It is, in fact, the greatest anthology. Seriously though, there are a lot of good short stories written by some phenomenal writers. It’s well worth the $3.99 asking price for the Kindle version and $9.95 asking price for the dead tree version.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the local coffee shops and rub this into the faces of those hipsters that have been “working” on their novels for the last decade.
Monday Metal: War Horse By Tengger Cavalry
I’m Off To AgoraFest
You’ve probably noticed this week has already been slow. That’s because I’ve been busy finalizing things for AgoraFest. In addition to the talk I’m giving on cryptography as it relates to agorism, I’m also the head of the mesh networking team so I’ve been flashing a lot of access points with Commotion Wireless firmware.
Anyways, I’m out for the rest of the week. New content will return next week.
If You Don’t Want People Viewing Content For Free Stop Posting It For Free
The war over online advertising just keeps getting better. Even though ad blockers reduce bandwidth usage, increase battery life, and protect against malware there are content providers whining that consumers shouldn’t install them. Some are even claiming that consumers have a moral obligation not to install them and have gone so far as to use loaded terms such as theft.
Now the pro-ads crowd is saying web consumers who view ad supported content while using an ad blocker are hypocrites. I might as well address this pile of bullocks since I’ve already invested so much time on this topic. The pro-ads crowd is painting a false picture. Namely that consumers should feel hypocritical about viewing something that’s been publicly displayed if they’re not viewing it how the creator intended.
Let’s consider a hypothetic scenario. A sculptor homesteads a plot of unused land in Libertariantopia (a magical land where everybody is supposedly a libertarian) and places one of his sculptures on it. He doesn’t build any fences or put up any signs indicating the land is his so people continue to walk through it as they always have. As they walk through his little plot of land they see his sculpture and stop for a moment to admire it. Suddenly the sculptor run at the people and starts screaming, “You can only view that sculpture through blue tinted glasses! You call yourselves libertarians?! You’re a bunch of hypocrites!” Assuming the people admiring the sculpture are good libertarians who believe in property rights, were they hypocrites for viewing that sculpture on the sculptor’s land without blue tinted glasses?
Absolutely not. First, they had no way of knowing they were even on private property since it wasn’t marked as such. Second, there was no indication that the sculptor wanted people to only view his sculpture through blue tinted glasses. Things would have been different had the sculptor fenced his land or put up obvious signs indicating the property was private. Then passersby would be aware that the property was private and not have entered it. Had the sculptor then hung signs stating, “Everybody is granted free entry for the purpose of viewing my sculpture so long as they are wearing blue tinted glass,” everybody entering his property would know that they could enter but their status as guests would be conditional based on the posted terms.
As you can guess this analogy is meant to illustrate accessing ad-supported websites. The sculptor’s plot of land is the website, the sculpture is the content, and the blue tinted glasses are the ads. Most websites have terms of service but they are not clearly posted just as no signs are clearly posted on the sculptor’s land. Under such conditions most visitors will remain entirely ignorant of any special rules they’re expected to abide by.
Unless web site owners clearly display their terms and conditions to visitors before allowing them access to the content they have no grounds on which to call visitors using ad blockers hypocrites. If you want people on your property to act in a certain way that’s outside of social norms, and let’s face the fact that using an ad blocker is now a norm, you should inform them. Don’t scream “Hypocrite!” because visitors are using an ad blocker if you don’t first display terms of services indicating such behavior was not allowed on your website.
What if the visitors aren’t libertarians and therefore don’t respect the owner’s property rights? Then you’ve got a much bigger problem on your hands because their philosophy may very well be socialist in nature and therefore they may view all property, including your content, as public. You’re going to have an even harder time successfully arguing that they’re hypocrites.
Piracy has been the content creator’s boogeyman since Napster. We’ve been told time and again that piracy will destroy musicians, authors, and movie makers even though all three groups are raking in more money now than ever. This is because consumers are willing to pay for content. The fatal flaw in previous efforts to fight piracy has been a reliance on legal strategies. But you can’t sue people into behaving a desired way. You can, however, make them a better offer:
Online entertainment services such as YouTube and Netflix have already taken away a large chunk of BitTorrent’s “market share” in North America and the trend is carrying over to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s less torrent traffic, as overall bandwidth use may have doubled in the same period as well. However, other online entertainment services are gaining ground during peak hours.
With 21% YouTube currently accounts for most traffic and Netflix is also on the rise, even though it’s only available in a few countries. In the UK and Ireland Netflix is already good for 10% of peak downstream traffic.
Services such as Netflix and Spotify can succeed in fighting piracy where lawsuits cannot. This is because they rely on providing consumers a convenient service for a price they seem to find fair (judging by the fact both services have a ton of users). For me, as an Apple Music user, paying $10 per month to have easy access to almost all of the music I want to listen to without having to manually manage anything is worthwhile. With BitTorrent I have to search for the music I want, hope there’s a copy in a format I can use, hope there’s enough people seeding it to make the download take minutes instead of days, and finally manually add it to my music libraries (which span across several computers and mobile devices). My time is valuable enough to me that $10 per month is worth not having to do all that dicking around. Apple Music has effectively stopped me from pirating music (not that I ever have because it would be foolish to admit to such a thing on a public page).
Motivations for piracy are often looked at in only dollars. People assume pirates are simply too cheap to pay for content. The calculation isn’t so simple. Pirates steal content for a multitude of reasons including official sources not providing a format they want, the time needed to pirate the content is less than the time needed to acquire it through official sources, or the strings attached to official sources (such as DRM) being too draconian. If content producers want to fight piracy they need to learn why piracy is occurring and offer a solution that addresses those reasons.