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Drone Graffiti

i hate drones.

Part of the reason is that they erode constitutional protections – everything from killing US citizens, to unreasonable searches, to declarations of war without congressional authority.  Part of the reason is they represent a horrifying new lethal technology which can be deployed without the risk of loss of life on the part of the aggressor, thus encouraging their use in all manner of situations, often where no lethal force was needed.  Part of the reason is that progressive or just reasonable political forces in the US have been unable to stop almost any aspect of their use by the government and military, including armed drones being deployed in the US to kill citizens.

clumsy first generation drones with spray cans

clumsy first generation drones with spray cans

There is a new wrinkle in the expanding, but largely ignored drone discussion: drone graffiti.  Wired Magazine reports with some glee the dawn of the age of drone vandalism.  [Why “glee” you ask?  Perhaps because the article title refers to this first know drone tag as “epic”].

Perhaps now that corporation as suffering something will be done to stop drones?

Perhaps now that corporations are suffering something will be done to limit drones?

It was completely forecastable that this would happen, but no one happened to.  On one level this might be because it makes absolutely no real difference in the world, despite Wired’s hype.  There was graffiti before, it does not matter much how it gets there.

“This is a hard letter for me to write”

The way i see it is, when it comes to the written word, there are basically two kinds of people in the world.  The most common kind of person is an editor.  You give them a page with a bunch of words on it and they read the words, tweak the words, tighten the meaning and the page gets better.

floating typewritersI am the other kind.  I am a blank page kind of a guy.  I depend on editors, not just because of my horrific spelling and grammar, but because i am sloppy and often other people need to make sure i am not making errors of fact or telling stories too far removed from reality.  And while i also do a fair amount of editing, the place i excel is when someone is starting with nothing and needs a document to get somewhere.

Thus i do a lot of ghost writing for other people, especially in the context of the community.  Twin Oaks requires written communication from visitors, long term guests and people who have run afoul of our occasionally labyrinth policies.  Many people i talk with don’t even know how to start these letters.  This is where i come in.

ghostwriter.pngTypically, i can get someone to explain their situation to me at a meal, ask a handful of questions and craft a draft response to the community which they are very relieved to have as a starting point.  Perhaps 25% of the time they can use my letter with only trivial modifications (like the above mentioned problematic grammar and spelling).   Universally, people are appreciative for the help.

Someone might be upset by this, feeling it is somehow cheating and people should write their own letters.  Nonsense i say.  The power of community is that we help each other by sharing our diverse skill sets.  I can’t cook worth a damn and will go nuts if i have to garden.   But i need these things to survive.   And while survival is not on the line with my ghost writing, i see it as part of our great skill share.

I’ll take care of you, you take care of me.

Cultural Zones: Tables, Fun Tables and Super Fun Tables

Hawina and i were at an engaging after dinner conversation at Ganas about what good communication culture looks like within community.  There were lots of examples of different community cultures.  I pitched the Acorn Clearness process, which is part of the Point A kit of tools for improving trust and transparency in your community.  We talked about whether it was important to greet everyone you see each day.  We discussed and disagreed on the fundamental nature of people who are in conflict and the availability of mutually agreeable bridges.

you cant get there from here

sometimes you just can’t get there from here

At one point a Ganasian confessed that there was confusion around what the appropriate protocol was for sitting at a table with someone who was already sitting there.  Do you ask if it is okay?  Do you just plop yourself down next to someone?  It may seem like a tiny point, but in the occasionally hyper sensitive world of commune culture, you want to get the social cues right.

The way we have resolved this type of problem at Twin Oaks is thru zoning  We use spacial and temporal zoning to help  with a collection of issues: kid noise, nudity, smoking, sex noises, bike sharing, gardening and much more.  In the case of who sits where at meals and what to expect in those places we have evolved three different types of tables.

Tables:  Most of the tables at and around the dining hall at Twin Oaks are simply tables.   If they are free you can simply sit at them.  When the next person comes to the table the etiquette is to simply check in “Can i sit with you?” Or if there is already a group of people you might ask “Is this a meeting?” which you might be invited to sit in on, or it might scare you away from the social lunch you were hoping for with these people.  Simple enough, no?

Fun Tables:  For reasons i can imagine but don’t know for sure, the community wanted a place you could go reliably and socialize.  A place where you never needed to ask if you could sit down and where you were sure there would not be a closed meeting or work discussions happening.  And thus the fun table was born. The informal rules are that we will always make room for you at the fun table.  And if you start talking about work at a fun table my son and others will call you out about talking about work.  There are two fun tables at Twin Oaks, one inside and the other outside.  They are popular and oft lively.

Super Fun Table:  Turns out there was a greater need for fun tables than just these two.  And it turns out that members don’t want there conversations controlled.  So there is now a very long set of three picnic tables end to end which are super fun tables.  You can talk about anything, you don’t need to ask to sit down and while it seats perhaps 30 people we will always make more space if it is needed.

quite fun table

quite fun table

Call to Action – Cooks to Baltimore

Baltimore is on fire.

One less police car - Fire in Baltimore yesterday

One less police car – Fire in Baltimore yesterday

But it is not the flames of store fronts and rare police cars.  It is the anger of locals who have tried everything else.  There have been protests in Baltimore for months over police killings of unarmed black youth.  MLK would have been proud of the tireless efforts by local organizers to try to influence the behavior of the police, non-violently.

But with the recent death of Freddie Gray who was arrested for reasons unknown, had his back broken, was denied medical attention when he asked for it repeatedly and then died in police custody, have thrown the city of Baltimore into a crisis.  The important thing to realize, is that this is happening all the time across the US.  Unarmed, young blacks are being killed by the police on a nearly daily basis.  What is also important to understand is the US is unique in this behavior, basically every other country in the world is able to deal with their populations without requiring the police to kill their unarmed civilians.  Freddie Gray did not cause the riots in Baltimore.  The Baltimore police and the mayors office doing nothing for years about this problem caused these riots, Freddie’s death just sparked them.

It is easy to feel hopeless.  It is easy to feel like there is nothing you can do.  This is often the luxurious place of white privilege,  There are things you can do.  Very specifically, if you understand community, you can go to Baltimore and help cook for protesters.  The Baltimore Free Farm (one of the most incredible urban projects in the US ) has made a call to the communes for cooks, if you have ever lived in community or feel like you understand how community works/have strong social skills, you are welcome to help.

We got the following request from our dear friends at the Baltimore Free Farm​ (BFF).

1) There are major protests in Baltimore
2) BFF is feeding protesters and needs more cooks
3) The best cooks for them are people who understand community and are not randos
4) Cooking experience is good, and willing volunteers who are not cooks can be trained and are welcome

If there are Acorn or Twin Oaks cooks (or others community savvy folx) who are willing to go up, they need help immediately and are estimating they will for the next several days to a week.

BFF will house volunteers. If you are interested please contact Billy at BFF.

If your problem is how to get there, i will help you get there. Paxus@twinoaks.org

Almost all protesters are non-violent.  You can help them.

Almost all protesters are non-violent. You can help them.

Extended FAQs – Twin Oaks Decision Making

This is the second in a series of extensions to the FAQs found on the TwinOaks.Org website.  Members, ex-members and other informed folks are encouraged to send corrections or alternative interpretations of my extensions as well as of the official FAQs themselves.

Here is what the website says about our decision making system:

Our decision-making model is based on the Walden Two Planner-Manager system combined with our egalitarian values. Managers are responsible for the day-to-day decisions for their area. For community-wide decisions and larger issues, the Planners (3 rotating members) make decisions by looking at our bylaws and policies, and by soliciting community input by posting papers for comment, holding community meetings, putting out surveys, talking with members (especially members that are closely involved in the issue or have strong feelings), etc. They don’t make decisions based on their personal preference, but rather by gathering information and determining the larger will of the community on a given issue. Any member can appeal a Planner decision they feel is unfair, although this rarely happens as Planners generally do a pretty good job at considering all the aspects of a given issue.

The community as a whole does not use consensus for making decisions, but some decision-making bodies within the community use consensus to make their decisions (e.g. the Membership Team). In keeping with our egalitarian values, we all have a voice in making the decisions about how to spend our collective money and labor during each year’s economic planning. The Managers and Planners put out their proposed economic plan, and each member can alter the plan according to their values and preferences (e.g. I can cut the office budget, and shift that money/labor to the garden budget instead, if I want). Once every member who wants to has done this, the Planners synthesize everyone’s changes to create the final budget.

decision-making-processes sign post Decision making at Twin Oaks is complex and the origin of this complexity (in my opinion) is the noble notion that we can do better than have a simple majority win.

The founders of the community thought they could improve on voting.  They wanted a system which revised proposals, even if they would win a simple vote, so that they could take care of minority voices in the community.  But because there were not (in 1967) good secular models of consensus process, they decided to roll their own and create a whole new group decision making structure. Key to this structure is our own unusual internal communication system.

Every community has an internal communication system, and almost all of them are verbal.  The group gets together some number of times each week and discusses what needs to happen and who is going to do it.

Twin Oaks was founded by writers.  We have a written communication culture. I don’t know of any other community that does it this way.  It has several advantages and some disadvantages as well.

The principal advantage is we avoid the “sloppy majority effect”.  If you are making a proposal and you have general support for it, but there are people with concerns about it, you cannot just force it through as a simple vote would.  If there are reasonable ways you can take care of the minority by modifying your proposal, the expectation is you will try to find these and amend your proposal.

This is why the O&I board is more powerful than a meeting format for proposal reworking. The O&I board is a collection of 24 clipboards on which people post proposals for changes in our policy and decisions.  These clipboards are stocked with extra blank paper at the ends so that there is room for people to add their thoughts (and so they feel like the authors of the proposal are inviting them to do so).  Ideally, critics voice their concerns, make constructive suggestions, and these amendments get reviewed and integrated in part or in totality to the new version of the proposal. The problem comes when the comments are not constructive or not easily folded into the existing proposal.  This is especially problematic when a vocal minority wants the proposal not to go forward at all or has a significantly different alternative they would like to advance.

How are we getting there?

How are we getting there?

These contentious proposals test our decision making system and demonstrate both its flexibility and its hazards.  The person who posts the proposal has several different options when they get complex or contradictory feedback on what they have submitted.  The first and easiest option is they can simply drop the idea.  This happens with some regularity.  Many folks proposing things, however, have a vested interest in the improvements they have suggested, so they will typically go one of several routes:

  • re-write the proposal to include new suggestions
  • call a community meeting to discuss the proposal (this is rare)
  • do a survey of member’s attitudes on this topic (also rare)
  • consult with other area managers or the planners

It’s a complex process and can proceed at a glacial pace, but some proposals do pass and it works well enough at Twin Oaks.

[ edited by MoonRaven ]

My First Uber Ride

The internet has been fantastically disruptive.  A quick review of the dominant formats of today versus 30 years ago highlights this:

Music: CDs vs iTunes/streaming
Software: traditional packaged vs online download
References (e.g. Encyclopedia): hardcopy/CD vs online distribution
Retailing: Intermediaries vs Direct to Customers online
Telcos: Voice as primary revenue vs Data as primary revenue
Travel: Travel agencies vs online ticketing

And the latest pending casualty in the internet shake up is taxicabs.  Mobile phones with GPS capacity have given birth to a slew of peer to peer private car hiring services.  By far the largest one is Uber.

Fairness is just one problem

Fairness is just one problem

Most Uber users i have spoken with are enthusiastic about the service.  It is supposedly 44% cheaper than cabs on average.  Drivers who are rated by riders are overwhelmingly courteous.  In urban areas they are as fast as cabs.  No cash changes hands and there is no expectation of a tip.  The drivers get 80% of the fare, which is far higher than what cab drivers get.

But there are a myriad of problems with Uber as well.  For me the most serious is the frat boy attitude of the companies senior management, which seems to think that it is okay to threatening to stalk and harass women reporters and their families.  Uber has been reckless about leaking customer information.  Uber is under investigation for pushing carless drivers into shady sub-prime car loans.  Uber has instituted surge pricing policies which charge hundreds of dollars for short rides.  Uber has failed to protect the privacy of both drivers and passengers with ill results.  Taxi companies are banding together and protesting Uber’s practices which are cutting corners and risking rider safety as well as suing Uber.  New Delhi has banned Uber after one of it’s drivers raped a passenger.  Uber promised to do more background checks (which were apparently absent) in response.

Taxis protest and road block the Uber headquarters

Taxis protest and road block the Uber headquarters

Despite these problems, having terribly under organized myself this morning at 2 AM i downloaded the Uber app and got my first ride.  It was free.

My driver Michael was 62, had a 4.85 star rating from Uber, a very clean car and was lovely company for my relatively short ride.  Michael had tried to retire twice (clearly something he was not very good at, unlike driving) but was going to hike the Appalachian Trail and need to make some extra money.  We chatted for the entire ride about Uber.

He was generally unaware of the few of the above problems that i pointed out.  [I did not know about the longer list until i started researching Uber today].  And he had nothing but good things to say about the company.  He did have quite some stories about drunken customers and hookers getting into his car, because he confused them for his clients.  He gave me the code that allowed me to get the ride for free (the code is “NowYouKnow” and is good for up to $20 rides but only on your first ride).

Will i use Uber again?  Perhaps.  What i am hoping is that real peer to peer services like Sidecar will expand from just San Francisco and be available in more places to provide us with an alternative to the management nightmare which is Uber.

Game of each single point

It was great to see Drew on my recent trip to the West Coast.  He is a networker who is excited about the Point A project and has mad skills.  He also has stories.

One of his stories that i was excited about was his experience of playing Frisbee at Acorn.  An ultimate game he claimed was the best he had ever played.  Not because we are especially good players, tho we can field a respectable team.  It was the way we play.  In his blog he writes:

We didn’t keep score, something I hardly noticed at the time. It wasn’t necessary to keep score because we were all infinite players playing a series of finite games.

It was at the moment of the opening disc thrown that the finite game started. We played for the point at hand. Not for the accumulation of points. Once that point was scored the finite game ended, the winning team got the title of team to most recently score a point then we started play on the next finite game.

Yes we play Frisbee in the snow

Yes we play Frisbee in the snow

We played to keep the game going. If one team kept winning and the other team was getting frustrated we would trade players to even out the skill levels. We would adjust the rules, boundaries on or off, people rotating out, etc. to ensure that the game continued (until sun down, of course).

Each finite game was played to it’s fullest. We played with great seriousness. Even more serious than professionals I would guess. Because no point was worth any more/less than another. We were never so far behind in points that scoring couldn’t keep us from losing or so far ahead that we could go easy on our opponent. We were never playing warm up or pre-season games that “didn’t matter”. We were playing for the point, the only point—at that moment in time—that mattered.

I had not thought of this analysis before, but i found it compelling.  While not universal, anarchist score keeping (aka not keeping score) is common in the communes.  Quite some Volleyball games start and end with scores of 7 to 7.  They are no less fun that ones i played with highly competitive rules and cultures.

Ultimate-evolution

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