Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tools of the Occupation (Our Voices)

My Grandfather, who went to his grave a card carrying member of the Wobblies, used to tell me that the Republicans were the party of the wealthy, the privileged & the corporations and were out to fuck the working man. In the 40 since his death the GOP have done nothing to prove him wrong. In fact they have redoubled their efforts to return this country back to the 19th century. The difference between then, the glory days of the Labor movement and now is that today every man can be his own publisher.

In the early part of the 20th century, when men and women like my Grandparents were working toward change in this country, the ability to organize and spread the words and news of the deeds of the Labor movement were very limited. Radio was just beginning and most of the print media was owned by those in power who had no interest in helping the labor movement. What publishing that was done was minmograph sheets passed out on a street corner and small print run underground newspapers which were distributed mostly locally. The audience for these was small and local, mostly preaching to the converted. That was then this is now.

In the last 15 years there has been a revolution in communications, the Internet has gone from being a network of universities, research labs and DOD/DOE facilities to a world wide hookup of computers. What was once an expensive and exclusive network has become network that almost anyone can hookup to. At the same time that the Internet was opening up there has been an explosion of free and almost free software and very low cost hardware and networking that allows most everyone to have facilities that were unavailable 15 years ago.

The first and most obvious is the drop in the price of computer equipment. In the early to mid 90's an Intel 486 was a hot processor and cost around $200.00, a gig of ram was over $1000.00. Today an Intel i5 processor, which is almost 10,000 times more powerful than a 486, is about $200.00 and 4 gig of ram can be had for under $50.00.

At the same time that computer equipment has gotten cheaper and more powerful there has bee a rise in free operating systems like Linux and FreeBSD. Once a computer OS was hundreds if not thousands of dollars and it took a team of experts several weeks to install an OS. Today Linux and FreeBSD can be had for free and a computer hobbyist can install one of these in less than an hour.

Another big advance has been in networking. When the Internet was being built the standard connection was a 56 Kbits/sec line. This was between large sites. Smaller sites would be using an on demand 24 Kbits/sec dial up connection. Today the average co-location facility (a co-lo is a place where companies like Google and Apple place their servers) has a minimum of an OC-12 (600 Mbits/sec) The larger facilities will have multiple OC-192 connections to serve the co-lo. The speeds and ubuiquisness of fast connection has made the distance between data centers in Europe and North America irrelevant. What this means is that a person using a web browser in San Francisco will not see any difference, in terms of speed and latency, between a site in Chicago and one in Berlin. On the Internet national borders do not exist.

The big difference is the software. Virtually anyone who wants one can have an email address, a web-site, twitter account, a photo sharing account and an RSS feed for the asking. These resources did not exist 15 years ago. Combine these with search engines like Google and Bing and anyone who to can become a publisher and these publications can easily get the wider circulation they need. The down side to every man a publisher is every man is a publisher. Not everything on the Internet helps us. A large part is useless and there is an increasing amount of dis-information about us and our causes.

With the search engines one can find any and all points of view but this opens up opputunites for sock puppets (people pretending to be someone other than who they really are) and astro-turfing (fake grass root movements). It also allows for false flags and agents provocateurs to hijack our movements. The way out of this dilemma is for us, as a group, to collect and vet links to those web-sites, mailing lists, blogs, Internet radio stations that are truly supporting our cause and to out those sites that have been put up disrupt our movment. To that end I have started a website Redwood Empire as a start to this.

This site is a first step and it is largely disorganized but it a work in progress. One should not consider this to be the end all - be all; others, maybe you, should put up their own web-sites and link to others. Remember, an informed community is a strong community.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tools of the Occupation (The Camera)

One of the camera manufactures has the slogan. "Preserve the moment". Sound advice when dealing with status quo. Without a record the 1% can do anything they want and when someone kicks up a fuss, there is no record and their statement has validity.  But with a photograph or a video, well they end up looking like the lying bastards they are. Because of this a still and/or video camera is an essential tool in our struggle.

Time was, and not so long ago, all cameras were film camera. The process was you would take some pictures, drop the film off at the drug store and several days later you would get your pictures back printed on photo paper. Tricky part was there was a negative and only one or two prints. The image was not in a digital format and it was hard to share with others.

That was then, this is now. Today you would be hard pressed to find a film camera and a place to get it processed. Almost all consumer cameras are digital and they are so advanced that just about anyone can produce a reasonable picture. Not that the new digital cameras will turn your Aunt Jane into Ansel Adams but the images will be mostly in focus with a good exposure.

Since manufactures have started putting cameras in to cell phones and the price of a reasonable point-and-shoot camera is now hovering around $100.00 every activist can and should have a camera with they at all times. But just because you have a digital camera that does not mean that you can just point & shoot and get great pictures. There are a few things that you need to do to be prepared.

Batteries -- All digital camera rely on batteries. Weather your camera uses a built-in battery or replaceable batteries one needs to carry spares at all time or make sure that the internal battery is fully charged up. If your camera uses an internal, non-replaceable battery one needs to know exactly how long the battery will last. For this reason field replaceable batteries are preferable.

The lens -- The heart and soul of any camera is its lens. The better the lens the better the camera. Modern cameras come in two types when it comes to the lens; there are those that when the camera is turned off the lens retracts into the body and a shutter cover the lens. This type protects the lens from any damage when the camera is off. The down side to this is that the lens on the camera is the one you are stuck with, you can't swap it out.

The other type of camera has a lens that is not protected by a cover. These usually are the more advanced types that one can swap out the lens for another one. The way to protect this lens is to put a neutral filter on the lens. Take your camera into a camera store and ask for a neutral filter, they will know what you want. They generally cost between $10 and $15, cheap insurance for your camera's lens.

The care of a lens is critical. Never, never, ever touch the surface of the lens with your finger or anything else other than a cleaning cloth. Your fingers have oils on them that are not good for the lens coating. Get a lens cleaning cloth at a camera store, it will run you between $5 and $10, and have the people at the store show you how to use it. Then carry it with you at all times. Don't remove the neutral filter, keep it on at all times, but keep the filter spotlessly clean at all times.

The setup -- The default settings on your camera may be good enough but a quick check is a good idea. Most camera have a built-in calendar/clock, make sure yours is on and set to the correct time. The higher end cameras are starting to come with a built-in GPS, if you have this turn it on and make sure it has synced to your location.

Most cameras record the image in a JPEG format, some in a "raw" format and some record both at the same time. If your camera will record in the raw formant you do want that. Think of the raw format as a negative. There is a lot more information in a raw then a JPEG. A JPEG is a processed image and some of the information is lost in the processing.

While we are talking about image formats, you want the largest format you can get. This will preserve lots of detail so that if you blow up the image it will still be workable. Yes, they take up a lot of space but that can easily be fixed by buying the a large fast SD card for your camera. A fast, 16GB card will set you back $50 but you can get many large images on it. While at the camera store get a large memory card. They will be able to match the memory card to your camera.

Saving the image -- Now that you have the images copied from your camera to your computer its time to do a backup. You could copy the files to another directory but that is not a backup. Should the hard drive in your computer fail you have lost both copies of those images. A better solution copy the images to an external drive. A 500 GB USB external drive can be had for around $75. Yes, it is a little pricey but it is cheap insurance. Another suggestion is to use one of the on-line storage sites. Dropbox, Box and Adrive all offer free on-line storage.  A drive seems to offer the best deal.

Keeping your images on your computer at work is a bad idea. Most employers don't mind a few pictures of family members on a work computer but large numbers of images could be a problem. Most employers regularly scan the computers hard disks and these scans do get looked at.

Publishing -- The number of on-line photo site is just amazing. The big ones like flicker and photobucket offer large amounts of storage for free. A short list of other sites can be found HERE. These sites can be used to inform others of our struggle while at the same time documenting the abuses of those who attempt to shut us down.

You should choose 2 sites for your images and sign up using 2 different names and email addresses. There will come a time when the status quo will attempt to silence us by removing evidence of their deeds by compelling those sites that host our photos, videos, blogs and other materials. By having your images on multiple sites this will slow them down.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

OWS Oakland

The last couple of days have been bad ones for OWS Oakland. The cops attacked a group of peaceful demonstrators the other night, putting one of them into intensive care. The fact that this demonstrator had done 2 tours of Iraq didn't seem to matter. He was shot for exercising his constitutional rights, the same ones he went to Iraq to defend. Didn't matter to the cops, he was just another dirty hippy who was not doing as he was told.

Today, OWS Oakland re-took the park outside of the Oakland city hall and the calls for  Mayor Jean Quan's recall are getting louder. She was in trouble with Oakland resident for her lack of action on the city's crime problem but the police riot the other night has galvanized people into action. The facebook link to this group is here:  Recall Oakland mayor Jean Quan

Mayor Quan thinks that she this is just a flash in the pan. Most of the politicians in cities around America that are seeing an OWS movement think that this will be gone with the first snows of winter. I suspect they are seriously mistaken. The winter weather may drive people away from their encampments and indoors but the issues that caused them to march in the first place are still there.

People are angry and not just the young. The young may be the ones marching but the older generation are the ones backing things up. It's the older generations, the hippies of the 60's who were in the home stretch of their working careers with a modest but comfortable retirement coming into view. That dream has vanished with the collapse of the housing & stock market. People have seen the value of their retirement money cut in half and have come to the realization that they will most likely not get to retire. What is pissing everyone off is the fact, and they are now waking up to this, the wealthy, the privileged and the corporations have spent the last 20 years or so gutting the middle class by cutting the social safety net, shipping jobs overseas and cutting their taxes to the lowest levels since the Gilded Age.  But what is really chapping their ass is the fact that the people who crashed the economy got bailed out with tax payers money and are now walking away Scott free with the tax payers money in their pockets.

Anyone who thinks this will all blow over and it will be back to business as usual is delusional. The police riot at Oakland is just the opening act of this play.  George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". History does not repeat itself by there are patterns that come up time and again. OWS has the same flavor of the social actions of the early part of the Depression.  How bad can this get? One can start by reading about the Bonus Army. In short, pretty bad.