Free Change

Game Based Learning: Greg Niemeyer’s Lab Notes

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Data is, well, money.

April 26th, 2010 · 36 Comments

So you’ve greated GB’s of personal data on the internet. Facebook is brimming with images and stories you created, and facebook is selling all that data and much more metadata about you (when you’re online, who you talk to) to the highest bidder. Well, that makes you a data investor. Instead of investing money in the company, you invest data. If the company succeeds, your data share is worth a portion of the company’s worth. It would be fair to assess this portion as a the portion of all the company’s data that you produced, or that is collected about you. How many dollars would that be? Well, if facebook is worth $ 10 billion and has 500 million active users, and we assume that all users have the same amount of data (just to get a sense of the lay of the land) that means each user would own $20.00 of the company in data. Any investor who would pay for a portion of this company would send the average user a portion of these $20.00. It would not make many people wealthy, but it would be fair. Data is money.

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Friend this Plant

April 14th, 2010 · 43 Comments

A while ago, Paul Licht and I started talking about how to build awareness and interest in Botanical Gardens, especially the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. Talking with Erin Despard, I proposed that we can become friends with plants, based on their scientific names: just another step in the internet of things, with greetings to Kate Hartman and the Botanicalls.

For example, Camilla Sinensis is the tea plant, and now she can be your friend. You can visit her in real life, and she will be waiting for you. You may not touch or harvest her, because she is in a Botanical Garden, but you sure can water her, talk to her, or tell others when she is blooming. She has some friends already, and she will shortly have many more plant peer friends. Friends who want to adopt her can have her facebook password and speak for her. Currently, she is eager to have more photos of her taken, and the first one who sends a photo to her facebook page will get free ice cream. In case she does not reply, just call the Botanical Garden ((510) 643-2755).

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Home Coffee Roasting in Berkeley

January 18th, 2010 · 49 Comments

Home Coffee Roasting in Berkeley

Originally uploaded by gregoniemeyer

While roasting, we discussed if the total production of CO2 from roasting a coffee bean was balanced by the sequestration of CO2 the coffee plant achieves in its growth. If yes, then coffee is a carbon-neutral product, save for the energy it takes to run the roaster and to boil the water. Interestingly, we also found that grinding coffee generates a considerable amount of VOC’s. That’s what smells so good!

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Hurray the Bay Bridge is Closed!

November 2nd, 2009 · 36 Comments

Bay Bridge Closed!

Originally uploaded by gregoniemeyer

We always say that Climate Change is a problem of systemic causation, but the more measures, the more the story is one of direct causation. Case in point: The Bay Bridge closed for a few days, and the CO2 inside an office in SF dropped across the closure period by 25 ppm or about 5%. True, that is not much, but true, there is a direct cause, and it affects us all. So as disastrous and inconvenient the primary effects of closure are, the net benefit in the air is compelling! Same story in Mexico City during the H1N1 Flu Quarantine: blackcloud observed a drop of 25% in CO2 baselines due to the quarantine.

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Orality feeds Prediction

October 22nd, 2009 · 49 Comments


Originally uploaded by gregoniemeyer

Today I gave a BCNM roundtable talk about how relevant the concept of orality is to understanding what happens online when we play, post, chat comment and move data of all kinds. As an example, I showed a screen shot from youtube. After discussing the structural aspects of teh page, and how they establish a space for oral performance in a thick now, Ozge Samanci reminded us that while the exoerience of interacting with yourtube is indeed oral, the database in the background is keeoing a record. This point connects to discourse about data mining and prediction. So the more we chat, play, comment and click, the more we feed the databases of the internet, which in turn produce more accurate predictions about us. We can only hope that we are media-literate enough to understand the full extent of this relation, and that we have enough access to our data to be able to predict, or perhaps even run some hyptheticals, on our own fates.

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Help is on the Way

September 25th, 2009 · 37 Comments

UC Berkeley Budget Protest

Originally uploaded by gregoniemeyer

As uplifting as it was to protest an obscure budget at UC Berkeley, it was surreal to read Soloman’s Yudof interview. I almost feel sorry for our President. The situation is not easy and it requires much leadership. So I thought: Let’s give President Yudof a hand with a second take of the interview. Follow this link to a survey form where you can write better answers! Help is on the way.

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090909 Neutrality: Conclusion

September 10th, 2009 · 51 Comments

At the end of BCNM’s 090909 conference, our keynote speaker, Hans-Ulrich Jost, suggested that after hearing a hunge range of high-level talks on issues of neutrality, he wished for some sort of conclusion, perhaps collected from all the attendees observations and responses. We will do this for 101010 (42). For 090909, let’s try to formulate a conclusion right here. Credit is given to the presenters of specific ideas in parentheses, and we will post slides and recordings of some of the talks in our proceedings web page. Thanks also to Swissnex, BCNM and Tcho for sponsoring the event!

090909 Conclusions
Neutrality is a space designated by powerful forces (Jost) to make meaningful conflict possible (Garcia). This political concept is related to Bruno Latour’s observations about “Ding”, a place of justice. That space is more successful if the interplay of all participating powers is transparent and visible (Salamanca). However, the myth of neutrality can also operate as a moral shield (Jost) to cover up unscrupulous profit-seeking behaviors. This is possibly also true for concepts such as Google’s “Do No Harm” concept. For these reasons, movements such as Net Neutrality may sound much better than they are, and my in fact cover up the complexity of the Internet and the many players who define it (Goldberg). It is however possible to extract a neutral space from collections of biased information through processes that reveal the spread of opinions (Goldberg). This approach connects to the ternary philosophy (Gwazda, Greig) which seeks to depolarize dichotomies and define perceptual concepts which are based on three rather than two categories. While much harder to process, ternary systems provide an elegant way to resist categorical boundaries, and even to formulate spaces for dynamic relations which are so complex or even absurd (Samanci) that they might as well be called neutral. Ternary systems may be well suited to harbor highly sensitive collections of information such as DNA data banks. Such data banks must be fiercely protected from both corporate and state control to maintain the freedom of the DNA contributors (Thompson). It is not acceptable to construct such databases with bias for or against any aspect of the data, or to neglect the issue in pious weakness. Instead, we must call for a kind of radical ambivalence (Day). Radical ambivalence is a type of neutrality which insists on holding more than one interest, which in fact calls for a space in which any and all interest can become part of a meaningful conflict. It is only with such spaces that we can tackle major challenges such as climate change, which appears as neutral, but in fact is used as another “moral shield” to covert political agendas (Borgeson). The challenge with climate change is to figure out which political processes will yield the best carbon reduction results, both chronologically and quantitatively. The longer we do nothing, the more dramatic the carbon reduction measures will have to be. Radical ambivalence serves us better than other strategies to find common ground for necessary carbon reduction actions that impact us all, and to acknowledge how each one is affected by carbon reductions and climate change differently (Goodman).

In summary, neutrality is a consensual myth to provide a space for powerful and diverse interests to carry out meaningful conflicts. Unless it is perverted, neutrality does not excuse engagement, nor responsibility, but rather affirms that each party can participate in meaningful conflict, that nobody’s interest is ignored, suppressed or amplified beyond measure.

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Aesthetics of Restraint

August 24th, 2009 · 39 Comments

Laura Greig’s aesthetic of restraint

Originally uploaded by gregoniemeyer

Salary cuts in the form of Furloughs at UC Berkeley lead to hardship and complaints, sure, but there is also a chance to advance our culture. Our culture seeks to maximize everything, more money, bigger homes, faster cars, more work: we are pursue an increase on investment with everything we do. But what if our economic crisis is not just a brief dip in the endlessly climbing curve of increasing revenue? What if that curve has past the point of sustainabilty, and there will never be more of anything ever again? Maybe that curve is fallacious as the curve of Zeno’s paradox that logically proves how the Tortoise outpaces Achilles in a race.
Then we might as well start cultivating an aesthetic of restraint, where less is indeed less, but less is better. We can sleep longer. We can eat less. We can make shorter movies. We can tell longer stories instead. We can look each other in the eyes longer. We can exercise restraint in all matters that cost money, create pollution, use energy, and make us have less time. The one who found happiness with less of all will win. We can still compete, just for less, instead of more.

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Blackcloud Summers in Zürich

August 13th, 2009 · 50 Comments

Don’t stand so close to me (Photo: Cat Tuong Nguyen)

Originally uploaded by gregoniemeyer

Like Ulysses, after traveling the world, Black Cloud needs a rest. And rest, to a Cloud, is in many places, but none more so than Langstrasse in neutral Zürich, Switzerland, where there’s always a gentle breeze.

Yes, Black Cloud checks into an apartment, the former playpen of the notorious St. Pauli Bar. To enjoy his vacation, he installs his monitors in each room of the apartment. Bathroom, kitchen, office, bedroom, changing room, balcony, and even the closet are online reporting air quality, from August 18 to August 22. Visit the apartment from 6 PM to 9 PM daily, find the way from climate room to climate room, and view souvenirs of air pollution from around the world.

The address is 134 Langstrasse, 8004 Zurich, ring the doorbell for “Black Cloud”, and take the stairs up to the 2nd floor. For more information, please visit

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090909: Neutrality

August 7th, 2009 · 34 Comments

An Archive of Neutrality

Originally uploaded by gregoniemeyer

The latest installment of the wildly interdisciplinary 0n0n0n conference series, 090909, is dedicated to the process of creating neutrality. 090909 is sponsored by BCNM, the Berkeley Center for New Media as an effort to make sense of the world of new media by process and issue, not by discipline and subject.

Always appealing, never attained, net neutrality, climate neutrality. Neutral forces such as Wikipedia, the Red Cross, and the U.S. Judicial system, struggle to preserve spaces and processes that are free of bias, free of exploitation, and free of partisans.

Neutrality is essential yet elusive, fundamental, yet fragile. Neutrality appeals to our innate sense of fairness, but where is the neutral country, the objective reporter, or the unbiased judge? Where is the neutral medium, the one that does not distort, judge, exclude, repress or omit? What happens in the absence of neutrality? What practices can help us track and fight bias in a medium as complex as the internet? Can the net even be neutral? Which methods, companies and agencies increase net neutrality, which ones corrupt it? Why is neutrality a value in the first place? How can we keep new media (phones, internet) fast, clear, and neutral? Considering our impact on the environment, how can we become climate-neutral?

On Wednesday, September 9, 2009, we would like to invite you to join our discussion by giving a presentation about processes that create neutrality in your practice. What concepts, what processes of neutrality do you use to ensure that your website works for any browser, that your media are free of distortion, that your stories are objective, that your decisions are fair? Is neutrality vital? Can neutrality be immoral? Does neutrality even exist, or is it just a fancy idea?

We would like to feature you as a speaker for a short presentation, between noon and 7 pm, at UC Berkeley’s new Sutardia Daj Hall, in our BCNM research space. We’ve structured the afternoon in three parts, as follows:

1. History, Theory, Ethics: What is the history of the idea of Neutrality? Can we analyze when it exists and when it fails?
2. Bounday Issues: Can an impartial search engine produce a neutral space? Do opposing views produce a neutral space? Is there any neutral medium?
3. Logs, Aesthetics, and General Journals: What tools account for neutrality in Internet Technology, Law, Art, or Business?

If you’re ready with an idea to illuminate neutrality, please send us your abstract by Sunday, August 23, 2009. We will read your work and contac you about a speaking time by September 1, 2009. Please email your name, affiliation and abstract to

You can also find out more about our day of neutrality at

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