This App Kills Fascists

My company launched a beer app today. Will it change the world? No. Will it help local businesses, and help some people to get away from their screens and go and meet other people? Yes.

A year ago, that felt like enough.

The following is reposted from my account on Medium:

What is the perfect weapon to fight fascism? 

I didn’t get much further than writing that headline last night. I was tired. I had planned to write a whole thing about how in the city where I live there is a right-wing “free speech rally” planned for this Sunday, and there are scads of left-wing groups ready to rumble, and really all of us who actually live in the area are just going to keep our heads down and trying to go on being kind and decent people. I was going to tie this into technology somehow — how what we really need is a better culture, a way past memes and fake news, a way to propagate the information that doesn’t necessarily have a massive advertising budget deployed for maximum reach. Maybe something in there about encryption and Signal too. It’s all well and good.

But then a friend sent me this story:

The app is called Notifica.

Through the app, users can select the people they’d want to notify if detained. In case of an emergency, the app would send a personalized message to each person, including spouses, lawyers, children, friends, etc. They’re protected by a PIN, so that if the phone’s lost or stolen, no one else can access the messages. On top of an app, Huge also created a phone hotline for those who may not have access to a phone at the time, but may be able to eventually make a phone call. The company has teamed up with United We Dream, where Reyna serves as the director of membership and tech strategies.

It is designed as a “panic button” in case of ICE Raids. And this is the thing — it debuted three months ago at South By Southwest.

My friends, we are already there.

“First they came for the illegal immigrants…

“Then they made you illegal…

“Then they made me illegal…

And this is the reality we inhabit. Where people really are picked up and rounded up in broad daylight. And the news media barely bother to report upon it. And apps that attempt to give people resources and coping mechanisms are not banned by the Feds, but rather debut, to modest applause, at industry showcases.

This is how we fight against fascism.

Do you see the absurdity?

I do and it’s like Kafka or Catch 22 all over again.

What can you do? Actually, what can I do? What can my company do? This is not an idle question. It is one that I am trying to figure out. I know that I certainly have to figure it out for myself, before I can offer prescriptions or proclamations for anybody else.

These are the front lines. We are in the middle of a war. If you haven’t noticed that by now, it’s probably too late.

 

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Nobody likes to fail. I certainly don’t. The fear of failing again has stayed with me ever since we canceled our Kickstarter campaign four years ago — the one this website was named for.

We canceled it for three extremely good reasons:

  • Our seed funder’s check bounced.
  • The marketplace had changed, making custom WordPress theme design and web design far less important to users.
  • I received a disturbing and threatening package dropped outside my office door,  just a few days after an article ran about us in the local paper.

I had three women working with me at the time — one an intern barely out of her teens. If it was just me, maybe I would have soldiered bravely on. But I was worried about putting others at risk. I reached out to my small town community in shock, hoping for support and solidarity. Nobody gave much of a fuck. Big surprise. I don’t live there any more.

So I moved on to a different project.

We got interest in our new idea, but we were nearly out of money. There was only one thing left to do. I turned my hand back to the old, boring web development business. We got that going on — carved out a new niche for ourselves helping other entrepreneurs ramp up. Ironic, no?

I thought it was about time I got back to coding, having taken a year and a half off to chase startup dreams. I did a little demo in Swift. I showed it to some people. And it blew my mind. Folks were actually interested. Money we had been promised in 2013 finally materialized.

And… the rest is present.

We built a cool thing.

We did it for a shoestring budget, even given the funding we got. I was typically the one who skipped a paycheck if things got lean. It’s a chick thing, I guess–you skip meals so your children don’t go hungry.

For me, it was always worth it.

I absolutely love my job. It’s the ride of a lifetime, and I’d give anything to keep doing it.

The problem is, one way or another — it’s about to change.

Once we bring VC in, we lose control of what we’ve built. I have to remind anyone reading this that I don’t have a Series A yet — but I am optimistic we can get there. More to the point, if we go down that route and we are offered a deal, we will most certainly take it. This is one of the last moments where I can bow out without being a total dick to everyone else on the team.

I’ve talked to a lot of friends in the Privacy/Encryption/FOSS community, and they’re all like, “Do what you have to do, man. Take the money and run.”

It’s not a matter of idealism for me.

It’s more a matter of artistic integrity, I guess, if I want to sound really pretentious about it. I don’t care so much about changing the world. I just want to build cool stuff.

I know the projects I would work on. At least the first six.

What’s stopping me? I’d be broke as shit, for one. But mostly, I’m not sure anybody would notice or care. At least if I take the money, I get my picture in the news a few times. Maybe I’d have some kind of platform to influence matters.

So Where Does That Leave Us?

I still haven’t made up my mind. I probably won’t tell anyone when I do. But I know my own break points. There is really only one secret to success: structure your choices so that two or more likely outcomes result in a win.

Check. Mate.

Why We Need Usable Open Source, Now More Than Ever

Here’s an excerpt from an article I just published on Medium:

"Design Fail"

I work on Android and iOs devices every single day. My company develops and tests continuously for both platforms. Android is an open system. iOs is a closed system. Both were developed by giant corporations of dubious moral authority. Both contain largely the same functionality.

People don’t choose the iPhone because it is “easier to use.” They certainly don’t choose it because the tech is better, it runs faster, or because (in 2016) more apps are available. They choose it because it looks gorgeous. Smooth, slim, and sleek. Like liquid silver money.

The iPhone will get you laid. It will get you a raise, or a promotion. It is everything that we in post-millennial America supposedly aspire to. The iPhone is cheaper than a Rolex, and smaller than a car. It looks bright and shiny as you are texting by the bar…

Read more >>

Whose Robots?

Swiss-based robots for Basic IncomeTechnology was an omnipresent theme at BIEN 2016, and also the subject of debate. Profs. Inoue, Shinagawa, and Tsuzuki analyze the economic impact of artificial intelligence on employment. Guy Standing may argue that the movement does not need the specter of future job loss caused by automation, but it remains a compelling vision, as evidenced by the “friendly robots” demonstrating in Davos and on behalf of the Swiss referendum. Yet technology is not the enemy, or even a neutral force.

Julio Linares spoke yesterday about the possibility of rewriting financial instruments to deliver direct dividends to citizens; an innovative solution that seems tailor-made for Ether or another cryptocurrency built for the fulfillment of “smart contracts.” My own presentation dealt with cryptocurrency and UBI. Technology is more than a necessary evil to which we must adjust; it is an extension of our selves and our humanity. Often tech lies with within the spheres of corporate or government control, but not always.

As I attend this conference I am aware of the outpouring of rage and grief in the United States over recent police shootings. A sniper who had targeted police in Dallas was killed by an actual police robot. I feel a weird kind of survivor’s guilt. Are our goals here in Seoul too lofty and unrealistic? All I can say is that guns are technology. Cell phones are technology. Fear and hatred are not technologies.

We need better technologies to support activism and organizing outside the corporate sphere. (Ask me how.) Some of these tools may be directly aligned with the goals of universal basic income; others may simply help build a broader political constituency.

To wait for political change before addressing the “how” and the practical dimensions of the change to come, would be a grave mistake. The next BIEN summit, will take place in Finland, birthplace of Linux. It seems a fitting place for advocates of free software, privacy, and basic income to find common ground.

Who’s in?