Long form

    Recognize the ills, let's do better — Short summary of

    cover of the book

    Imagination: A Manifesto (A Norton Short) by Ruha Benjamin 📚

    In order to flourish as individuals and a society we must free ourselves from the strictures of standardized testing, industrialized education, “accelerated learning”, technocratic utopianism, solutionism, longtermism, white supremacy and eugenic thinking, the carceral state, credit scoring and the “ordinal society” (See Fourcade and Healy), and more! It is hard to be imaginative when we are oppressed… but we have to be imaginative to overthrow the oppressors. In an ultimately hopeful argument, Benjamin provides example after example of real projects where humans work together to protect one another and lift one another up. She argues for “radical interdependence” and building a safe, equitable society to further our collective “radical imagination.”


    This post is part of a series. See the introduction here →

    Jiufen (see the whole album in full screen on Flickr here)

    The gold rush at the turn of the 1900s caused a boom in the small mountain town of Jiufen, with its sweeping views of the sea towards both the northwest and northeast. The narrow road switches back upon itself numerous times as you climb up the rugged mountainside. Across the valley, deep in the forest (with no visible road to get there) is a monastery poking through the trees. Once you make it to the town the road narrows even more, hairpinning around houses almost stacked upon one another. Take care to drive slow as knots of tourists suddenly run across the road to take photos of the rolling green valley below, or spill out of souvenir shops and the covered “Old Street” full of shops selling everything from ocarina to stinky tofu.

    Our driver took us to the top of the mountain, the far side of the town where we had a view of the valley below. Down the hill we saw the telltale shapes of the family grave sites, which sorta look like the ones you see in Okinawa (cultural connections!). In fact, when you look on a map, you realize that half the town is graves!

    satellite view of Jiufen
    Satellite imagery of Jiufen. Note the small structures dominating the hill. All graves.

    It was raining when we arrived. In fact, it rained almost the whole time we were in Jiufen. Our driver could not navigate through the narrow streets and called our B&B owner who retrieved us on a scooter. We followed him on foot wheeling our luggage down the steep road lined with graves.

    road lined with family graves

    A few switchbacks later we made it to the B&B and dropped our luggage. “How do we get to Old Street?” He just pointed “That way!” and we were off, picking our way between houses, down random-seeming stairways, passing stray cats. There were no people, but these were no roads. We were silent as ghosts, scared to wake anyone. As long as we were heading down we knew it was the right way. Soon we came upon a narrow stairwell between two buildings leading down to a river of tourists flowing left and right in the covered shopping street.

    Jiufen Old Street greeted us with the loud sounds and colours and smells of a crowded shopping area. Following the flow we branched off, stopping in a restaurant eddy where I had my first Vegetarian Red Vinasse Taiwanese Meatball. Continuing on were shoe stores and tea shops and every kind of knick-knack you can imagine, all hauled up to the top of this mountain to be sold to visitors who hauled themselves up here to buy.

    But why? One reason, at least for the Japanese, is the A-Mei Teahouse, a distinctive building that has been said to be one of the inspirations for the bathhouse in Spirited Away (though Miyazaki denies this, and there are a number of onsen in Japan itself which claim this title). The souvenir shops cashed in with all sorts of Totoro and Ponyo and other Ghibli goods. The guy in the ocarina shop playing Joe Hisaishi tunes was actually pretty talented!

    We took photos in front of the A-Mei Teahouse, and with a statue commemorating the gold miners in front of the building, but we took refuge in another teahouse further down the street, one with a fantastic view of the valley. This was my first Chinese tea experience. Not quite the same as cha-no-yū, but still with a recognizable level of ritual. The gentle spa music lent to the relaxing atmosphere as we drank cup after tiny cup of the smooth tea, watching the wind blow clouds up and over the mountain ridge above us. I recalled one of the one-stroke calligraphy pieces by Master Hsing Yun, the founder of Fo Guang Shan: Your mind a mountain, letting the clouds pass by.

    buildings in Jiufen, a temple at the very top
    Can you count the streets?

    It started to rain again so we huffed up, up, up! Stairwell after stairwell we got progressively more soaked as we poorly navigated the maze back to our lodgings. Once back it was straight into a hot shower to ward off any sickness. Later, my wife and I walked back down and had a browse, picking up some dinner to eat back in the room. After dark we climbed up yet more narrow stairs to the roof of our B&B to take in some night views.

    Waking early the next morning it was back down to Old Street before breakfast. The whole scene was very different: shutters closed, the street empty of tourists. Where yesterday there were throngs of people, now vans and trucks drove with their headlights on and barely enough clearance on either side. The narrow one-way street meant we had the pleasure of experiencing Jiufen’s daily morning traffic jam: each vehicle forced to park for long minutes as the vehicle in front finished its job of loading garbage or dirty hotel sheets, or dropping off a batch of tofu ready to be steeped in the stinky broth for the day’s sales. It was kinda like the feeling when you leave your hotel in the morning and the cleaning staff is getting to work, the mystery of the night before gone.

    We stopped in the Family Mart for a little coffee and morning snack. At the back of the convenience store was a seating area with large windows, overhanging the cliff. Probably the best view from a convenience store I have ever seen. After breakfast we hiked back up to the top of the mountain and took in some more views. As I was photographing the valley we could hear the distant sound of drums, the popping of firecrackers, and see the occasional firework launched high into the air below us. May 1st.

    Before noon we caught a taxi for the 45 minute drive back to modern Taipei, which is where we will pick up the story next time! 🚕

    Kaohsiung and Tainan, featuring Fo Guang Shan

    This post is part of a series. See the introduction here →

    Kaohsiung and Tainan

    (see the whole album in full screen on Flickr here)

    Kaohsiung is a port city in southern Taiwan, developed by the Japanese as an important industrial hub. We hired a tour guide who carted us around to different locations including the port area, the old British consulate, the art walk, and to one of the most intensely nerdy coffee shops I have ever seen (run by what I am pretty sure are devotees of the Falun Gong new religious movement , check out the art to see what I mean).

    Driving the streets of a non-capital city gives you another perspective into the lives of regular folk. I like just cruising and taking it in: a crowded row of store signs in bright Chinese characters pass by; students leaving university crossing the street as scooters wend past our vehicle to crowd the crosswalk; commuters in various Japanese and European cars; trucks hauling goods; glimpses down side streets as people take out their laundry or play basketball at the courts. Snapshots of lives. After the expertly brewed coffee came a sumptuous condensed-milk infused shaved ice topped with mangos and strawberries to cool off and consider all that was seen.

    Fo Guang Shan

    Wide avenue lined by pagodas leading to a giant statue of the Buddha

    One highlight was visiting Fo Guang Shan (album) one of the four major temples of Taiwan, and home to a Buddha Tooth Relic, of which there remain only three in the world. This temple complex, built in the 1990s, is absolutely massive. Once you pass through the main entrance building which features an information center, a couple of restaurants, a bunch of souvenir stores, and a Starbucks, you are on a wide path lined by eight pagodas that leads to a main hall. Behind that hall is another building with a giant Buddha statue, overlooking the entire complex.

    Map of Fo Guang Shan

    Each pagoda in itself is a museum of sorts. We went into just two: an information center with the history of the temple and teachings on the Noble Eightfold Path. The other pagoda we visited featured the One Stroke Calligraphy of Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the founder of Fo Guang Shan, who took up calligraphy after losing his sight — thereby restricting him to using just one stroke since he could not see where the characters were on the page.

    We did not have time to peek into all of the pagodas, and since it was raining we followed the covered path that runs on the outer edges of the main route. Here we brushed our fingers along the dark stone walls, engraved with the names of every single person that donated money to the construction of this holy complex (photo). (We spotted a number of Japanese and English names too!)

    Unfortunately photos were restricted in the main building. In the lobby I was able to take a shot of a carving of the 500 Arhats sculpted from roots of a 1000 year old camphor tree. Beyond that were a number of sub-shrines in this building. We navigated through groups of pilgrims and into the main temple dedicated to Guanyin (Kannon in Japanese). This was a very modern facility, circular with glass walls emblazoned with important religious figures, backlit by neon lights. The main altar featured a statue of 1000-hand Guanyin and some animatronics, and a line of small plastic bottles with red caps. At the direction of a helpful attendant, we paid our respects to Guanyin, and he filled one of the little bottles full of holy water from a dispenser in the altar. Later that night I poured some of the holy water over my head in the shower, and I think it worked! I never got sick the whole time in Taiwan, and I famously get sick on the fourth or fifth day whenever I travel abroad. We kept a few bottles to take home and put on our home altar as offerings to our ancestors.

    Anyways, behind the circular shrine is a very square shrine with a heavy-looking gold statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha gifted from Thailand. This was another opulent room, which can be a little disorienting if you are used to understated Japanese temples. Next was the main show: the tooth relic. This large shrine room has a very high ceiling with wood panels carved in the images of famous Buddhist temples from around the world. I recognized Bodh Gaya right away. At the front of the room is a large Buddha, lying on one side, carved from white jade from Myanmar. Above is a little nook with the reliquary which contains the tooth. At the prompting of a nun, we each took a little battery powered candle and reverently walked up to the altar, placing it there as an offering. I just sat and stared for a while enjoying the ambiance until a large tour group came in — which is always my cue to leave.

    The final area of the complex to see was the giant Buddha statue. We took a bunch of photos here, and circumambulated the Four Noble Truths Stupas on the four corners of the Main Hall, each shaped like the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya. Symbolism is everywhere at Fo Guang Shan.

    After this we took a very lovely vegetarian meal and browsed the shops. In all we spent just a few hours at Fo Guang Shan, but you could very well spend a couple of days here.

    A few more spots around the south

    Back from Fo Guang Shan we stayed at the Kaohsiung Grand Hotel (album), a much smaller (and ahem… cheaper) version of the Grand Hotel in Taipei.

    Kaohsiung Grand hotel exterior.jpeg

    Here we relaxed in the pool, I caught up on some writing, and we watched some local television. A Fo Guang Shan channel had a bunch of religious information. An “ethnic” channel featured indigenous programming in languages that sounded very different from the Mandarin and Hokkien we heard on the streets.

    For our last day in the south we drove up to Tainan, about 45 minutes north with our guide where visited the large and newly made National Museum of Taiwan History. We spent as long as we possibly could until the kids were tired out learning about the full history of Taiwan from prehistoric times, the settlement of mainland Han Chinese, indigenous communities, repelling the Dutch, the Japanese era, the postwar economic miracle, and a bit about the issues facing Taiwanese today and in the near future. I took many notes, but to be honest the facility raised a lot more questions.

    After the museum we rounded off our stay in the south by visiting the old Dutch fort (Chikhan Tower) and doing some shopping at the narrow Shennong Street before catching the High Speed Rail north to Taipei. Being the evening train on a holiday weekend, it was packed, so we had to stand for the one and half hour journey.

    Next time, northern Taiwan! 🚅

    Taiwan trip report - Introduction

    Roof of the Taiwan National Theatre with cloudless blue sky above

    Taiwan has been on the bucketlist for a while. In the year 2000 I was an exchange student in Kyoto learning Taiwanese from a fellow exchange student who was so excited for elections that he flew back to Taiwan to vote. That was only the second presidential election since the military dictatorship (which ruled from 1949) had transitioned to democratic elections in the nineties. In 2000 things were very exciting since it was the first time an opposition party won the presidency.

    My wife too had a Taiwan connection in 2000. She was friends with a different exchange student, a Korean Buddhist nun, who went on to live and study in Taiwan for many years. That was when I first learned how much of a Buddhist religious center Taiwan is, hosting monastics and scholars from all over the world. Taiwan’s religiosity also contributes to its high percentage of vegetarians, which is second only to India.

    In the intervening years I have had many friends travel and live in Taiwan. When I said I was finally going, everyone was excited and encouraging: “You are going to love it!” And you know what? I did love it. And I would love to go back someday. Mostly because so many of my questions about the place were not answered… but more on that later.

    I am no expert on Taiwan. Our trip was only 8 days and we mostly engaged in sight-seeing. Thus, I cannot bring you any deep insights into the politics and culture of the country. Furthermore, travelling with kids meant my opportunities to spend hours in museums or engaging in discussions at teashops was severely restricted. All I can offer are impressions, to paint with a very broad brush. If my impressions are off, you are wholly invited to correct me in the comments. I encourage it, and want to learn more!

    We flew into Kaohsiung in the south, drove to nearby Tainan for a day, then took the high speed rail up the west coast to Taipei. From there we drove out to Jiufen for a night, and then spent the rest of the time back in Taipei.

    Photos album count showing 1799 Photos and 94 Videos
    Pre-processed photo counts

    I took a lot of photos. I have whittled them down and posted to Flickr, but here I will accompany each album with a bit of explanation to give you some context.

    I am going to break this up into a few posts which I will link to here:

    So, if you are ready, let’s fly to southern Taiwan! 🛫

    It could be better for everybody — a review of Limitarianism in just 335 words

    📚 Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth by Ingrid Robeyns is an ethical framework advocating for limiting excess wealth and redistributing to the benefit of wider society. The book builds its case by historically analyzing the rise of inequality over the past 50 years through global neoliberal policy; the social problems that inequality cause or exacerbate; how taking a Limitarian stance could improve things for everyone including the wealthy; and what needs to be done to get there. She starts off the book with her proposal that there be a “political” wealth cap of 10mm $/€/£ per person, and an ethical limit of 1mm $/€/£ per person. Basically, she comes out of the book fighting. Then, throughout the author provides many shocking statistics and refers to many different academic studies. Furthermore, she runs though many of the counter arguments that have been posed to her by the public and the media, naming and taking apart each objection as a trained philosopher should. She brings a lot to the fight, and in the end settles basically on a strong welfare state (I would like to a see an anarchist argument). Altogether is a strong package. It is not the kind of thing you pass to the proverbial conservative uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner table. He will scoff, reject it outright, and recommend Thomas Sowell or some other ghoul. But for people who do not pray to Ludwig von Mises or one of the Mont Pelerin set, but do not necissarly have a strong critical bent or are not as politically aware, it might serve as a good catch-me-up and help them understand why they think we might be in the Bad Timeline. I really appreciate Robeyns’s call at the end for more political engagement by regular people. Our democratic muscles have atrophied in the decades of consumerist atomization. As the classic Graeber quote goes, “The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.”

    See my short chapter notes on Goodreads or Bookwyrm to get a peek into the details of the book.

    Just enough capitalism – A quick review of Slow Productivity

    cover of Slow Productivity Audiobook

    Slow Productivity by Cal Newport 📚

    Cal Newport’s latest advice book tackles the question of productivity in knowledge work. Factory work can much more easily be measured and systematized. Newport points out that office workers, writers, artists, and scholars are often assigned tasks and must come up with their own individual system to be productive. These systems are opaque to managers, who end up relying on “visible activity” (which many busy office workers are familiar with) as the proxy for productivity. Add in always-on email and instant messaging apps, plus a global pandemic and people trying to work from busy homes, and you end up with a lot of burnout.

    The initial chapters of the book will have many knowledge workers nodding along empathetically, sharing in the sense of exhaustion and overload. Taking inspiration from the “slow food” movement Newport quickly moves into his three solutionary principles:

    1. Do fewer things
    2. Work at a natural pace
    3. Obsess over quality

    Each principle gets its own chapter full of tips in how you can step out of the hamster wheel of “psuedo-productivity”, take back your time from your employer, and focus on truly great work. Newport takes a lot of inspiration from classic figures like Isaac Newton, Copernicus, and Madame Curie. (Pretty intimidating for your average cubicle warrior…)

    Ultimately, the book is not interested in deeper, critical questions of why we are burning out. Despite calling for a “revolution” in the conclusion, Newton drops some snide comments about Marx and leftists in the text. Challenging the system is not his job. Perhaps expected of a “productivity” blogger, he remains very much imprisoned in the self-exploitative work camp of the “late-modern achievement-subject” (see The Burnout Society by philosopher Byung Chul Han, an overview and link to my review here).

    Maybe I am being too “obsessed over quality.” A cynic might say this is a short book that capitalizes on people’s dissatisfaction with their work life and then doles “life-changing” advice between mentions of all his other books (on sale at all fine bookstores! And I admit I would like to get at least one more!). The advice basically boils down to: get really good at something, raise your rates, and lower the amount of time you spend engaging in capitalism. It is burnout mitigation on the level of a corporate mindfulness retreat. But that’s okay. It is better than nothing, and sometimes a reader needs a bit of prodding to be self-reflective, and the book did spur me to think about my own working habits. And though I have my issues, it is much better than other “make your bed”-style self-help books. I enjoyed the first bit and there are a few good nuggets in there. I think it would be a good jumping off point for discussion in a book club or office setting. So if you need something to spark a little rethinking about how you are doing things, this could be a good quick and moderately stimulating read. 3 stars!

    Rewilding the internet

    The “internet is not an ecosystem. It’s a zoo.”

    Robin Berjon and Maria Farrell not only show how we have arrived at this online monoculture (and the dangers therein), but how we can take steps to seeding more diversity (and therefore resilience) for the good of the whole forest.

    This article really sums up the work I have been doing over the past couple of years as a sort of armchair internet ecologist. Very happy to share it wide, hoping the seeds sprout into action by the internet-using public… which is all of us!


    Networking our networks

    People gathered in bar restaurant under some decorative scaffolding

    The HN Tokyo Meetup. As one Kansai person told me: “I can tell it’s a meetup for people who are into frameworks.”

    Last week I went up to Tokyo on my annual pilgrimage to meet with old friends and make new connections. I timed my trip to coincide with the monthly Hacker News Tokyo Meetup. These social events regularly see a hundred or so hackers, entrepreneurs, and tech enthusiasts of all kinds come out to drink and be merry. This month we were on the rooftop of the PARCO building in Shibuya. It was a bit windy but that rooftop is really gorgeous, offering excellent views of the city. Over the five hours I was there (including an after-party at a craft brewery around the corner) I met a ton of interesting people.

    A small sample:

    • an Elixir programmer considering a side gig as a an artisinal cheesemaker
    • a death metal singer that flew from the US to make connections and try to get a job
    • a data analyst who made a “moneyball” database for Columbia Records for discovering hidden talent (I was finally able to learn from him exactly what an “A&R” is!)

    It was a blast.

    People listening to announcements, decorative scaffolding above

    Community members gather to listen to announcements.

    Engaging with a community of your peers is fun and rewarding. You never know who you will meet or what you will learn. And who knows what opportunities it might bring in the future?

    I was a member of the HN Tokyo Slack community for 4 years before I even went to an event. In fact, I was introduced to it by a guy in the Fukuoka startup community. I am still in touch with those Fukuoka comrades… last year I was able to meet up with some at the Maker Faire in Kyoto. Nowadays I have been engaged with the the local Kansai HN and programmer community.

    During the HN Tokyo event I introduced myself as a “diplomat from HN Kansai”. Many people came up to me afterwards, interested in hearing more about Kansai. I invited everyone to stop by our community meetups if they were ever in Osaka or Kyoto. I was even able to recommend places to visit in Fukuoka!

    I enjoy going around to different communities and meeting people. As someone who has been between cultures (and locations!) for a long time, I suppose I also enjoy bridging different communities.

    Back when I lived in the Okanagan every community had their “Geek Beers”-style of tech meetup. Working with friends in the neighbouring towns such as Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, and Kamloops, we started an event where everyone in the region would congregate in one community. It was an annual summer event with a rotating host. We called it #megageekbeers. One year we even got corporate sponsorship to cover a bus to drive people to the next community over so they could arrive and get home safely!

    I am still connected to the Kelowna and Vernon startup communities. We share job prospects, industry information, and memes 😜 through these networks across communities and now across borders.

    Networking opportunities are super valuable at a personal level, whether for professional or fun reasons. We are all taught this early. But cross-community networking is how we can build movements. “Federation” has become a keyword in online social media the past couple of years. I think there is a huge opportunity to realize this concept IRL: let’s network our networks!

    People giving announcements, decorative scaffolding above

    Community members step up to the mic to deliver announcements.

    "we all can't be Buddhas"

    I am posting this publicly so that I can reference it in links going forward. There might be a more common way to express this sentiment, this is just the way that I often do in conversation. It is something I came up with in discussing intentional communities with my wife a while back.

    Oftentimes, communities will tear themselves apart simply over battles over who is “pure” enough to belong. We see this political infighting in all sorts of communities at all sorts of scales. The “narcissism of small differences”, right? Holding an unreasonably high bar of acceptance is completely counterproductive to building the kinds of broad-based movements that we need today in order to tackle the problems all of our societies face, whether at the international or local levels.

    One of the great lessons of anarchism that I learned from David Graeber over the years is how to actually go about developing the vitally effective community characteristic of diversity: learning how to listen to and respect individuals, their choices, experiences, and opinions. We cannot let “intellectual purism” prevent us from building (or burning!) necessary bridges. That is not to say there isn’t a limit. The Paradox of Tolerance is also something we need to contend with. But in general, we should approach community building with a “Big Tent” attitude.

    The Buddha was a perfectly enlightened being, a singular achievement. Yet the sangha, the Buddhist community, has survived for more than 2500 years.

    We all can’t be Buddhas… but with the right attitude, there are plenty of other ways that we can participate, and be together as part of the community.


    At the end of my 1 year Upāsaka program, I was given the Pali name of Sanghapāla — “protector of the sangha” — so one could say I have a spiritual devotion to community-building! 😊

    GitHub's Innovation Graph

    Rest of World has a piece on the fastest-growing countries for software development featuring GitHub’s Innovation graph. I got a peek at this last year at the GitHub booth at the IGF2023 in Kyoto. One of my favs is Economy collaborators which represents international collaboration on projects. It is the sum of git pushes sent from one country to another. This is some real CIA Factbook or Atlas of Economic Complexity-like stuff but for software development.

    A circular chart showing country arcs on the outside with connective bands to other countries

    More on Decentralization

    Of course a couple days after writing my post consolidating thoughts of decentralization I found a piece by Nathan Schneider in my Omnivore called: What to do once you admit that decentralizing everything never seems to work

    This further makes the point that the centralization-decentralization debate is nuanced, and Schneider quotes another scholar saying we must go “beyond the centralization-centralization dichotomy.”

    Schneider discusses entrepreneurship, co-ops, blockchain, and more, introducing three characteristics of applying the decentralization principle:

    1. Decentralization is a process, not static. It is not one-way. Centralization is like reverse-entropy.
    2. Decentralizing systems should be heterogenous, incorporating multiple forms of decentralization.
    3. We must plan for centralization and ensure that it is accountable. This rhymes with Mark Nottingham’s point of the need for checks and balances.

    Read the whole piece: What to do once you admit that decentralizing everything never seems to work

    On decentralization

    I really appreciated Mark Nottingham’s memo RFC 9518 on Centralization, Decentralization, and Internet Standards. In it he provides a wide-ranging and balanced introduction to the topic in quite a short article. I have been collecting bits of arguments for decentralization (in a centralized location of course 😉) for the past couple of years, with the intention to write something round-up, but have struggled. I am so glad Mark did it, and so much better than I could!

    I wholly recommend reading the piece. Below I will expand on it with some more wide-ranging sources. You don’t have to read his article to understand this post, but I hope by the end you will be even more motivated to go check out his.

    The RFC 9518 memo covers different types and harms of centralization in an internet context, and indicates what can be done by standards organizations like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Nottingham notes that standards orgs cannot prevent centralization, but can make sure to consider “centralization risk” when evaluating a standard, and promote those that enable decentralization.

    Yet he warns:

    while decentralized technical standards may be necessary to avoid centralization of Internet functions, they are not sufficient

    This is a problem for a certain sector of blockchain and web3 enthusiasts and why some pragmatic proponents came up with the term “sufficient decentralization.” Nottingham covers blockchain-style consensus in his memo. I also found Alice Yuan Zhang’s challenge of the “myths” of decentralization in web3 is a fun read. A quote from her:

    Decentralization as praxis is rooted in direct action, striving to abolish capitalistic economics and supply chains which encode mass oppression into large-scale systems with many actors and minimal accountability.

    Nottingham agrees, writing that centralization becomes a problem “when it has no checks, balances, or other mechanisms of accountability”. Architectural decentralization can certainly help, but it isn’t enough as explained in Capture Resistance by Robin Berjon.

    Furthermore, we may not want total decentralization. Nottingham gives the example of content moderation as something that benefits from centralization, and makes the point that centralized structures such as “governments, corporations, and nonprofit organizations” can be useful. This level of nuance is what makes Nottingham’s shortish piece extra valuable. Nobody is under the illusion that decentralization is a panacea.

    In discussing internet fragmentation, “public interest technologist” Mallory Knodel writes:

    Sovereignty needs to be balanced against interdependence. Globalization – and its technologies – arose from the idea that interdependence prevents conflict. Economic interlinkage, or entanglement, disincentivizes attacks because it raises the risk of collateral damage and unintended consequences for the attacker. Perhaps some healthy fragmentation provides greater opportunity for interdependence beyond interconnectivity, and is an example of how to embrace a more complex internet landscape.

    “Healthy fragmentation”… centralization and decentralization in balance. How do we combine them appropriately? Mike Masnick used the canonical example of the US interstate system in his essay Decentralization in All the Things:

    having centralized infrastructure that is open and on which others can build in a decentralized manner can open up tremendous possibilities.

    One main way we can do this with regards to internet protocols is to ensure interoperability and lower switching costs, which is where Nottingham says standards orgs can play a role. In this he is in agreement with Cory Doctorow, whose latest non-fiction book The Internet Con is a podium-pounding preachment on how “Network effects are merely how Big Tech gets big. Switching costs are how Big Tech stays big.” Interop lowers switching costs, and puts agency back in the hands of the people (see the presentation version of the book by watching Cory’s talk at DefCon last year).

    Cryptography and Privacy researcher Sarah Jamie Lewis says:

    Decentralization is important because building systems that distribute power is important. Building systems that resist abuses of power is important.

    She argues that centralization/decentralization should not be conceptualized in terms of simple things like % control over a number of nodes, but “how trust and power are given, distributed and interact.” I think she puts it admirably when she writes, “Decentralized systems are systems that rely on the distribution of power to secure the system.

    That last sentence is certainly one to mull over.

    But it is her point about who has access to power that makes decentralization such a wide-ranging topic. Once we start to go beyond the bounds of internet protocols the topic becomes more complex.

    Twenty-five years ago the United Nations Development Programme’s 1999 report on decentralization stated that “Decentralization is not an alternative to centralization. Both are needed.” The report notes that subsidiarity is an important principle for:

    … increasing the overall quality and effectiveness of the system of governance, while increasing the authority and capacities of sub-national levels. … Decentralization could also be expected to contribute to key elements of good governance, such as increasing people’s opportunities for participation in economic, social and political decisions; assisting in developing people’s capacities; and enhancing government responsiveness, transparency and accountability.

    In general we might say decentralization is a substrate for agency.

    In her lovely book How Infrastructure Works, Deb Chachra thinks about the future of infrastructure over the next 50 years in the face of climate change. For her, decentralization is a key to resilience, an important ability for the climate fight we are in as we rebuild our massively centralized infrastructure systems so communities can build to their own needs. Diffuse, diverse, and distributed… which also happen to be the founding principles (values?) of the internet itself.

    … like forests our infrastructure systems have the potential to be modular, networked, decentralized, responsive, and resilient

    Decentralization is a technological, architectural, political, and philosophical topic that I think underlies most if not all of our coordination efforts, whether in the realm of making the net better, or battling climate change. Because it is such a wide-ranging topic, entangled in so many debates, I have struggled to solidify my personal take and capture it in a succinct blog post. The lack of a single canonical answer to “how much decentralization” makes it a slippery topic. It’s a valuable principle to guide our decision-making and I am glad to see it enshrined here in an RFC so that standards organizations like the IETF can take it under consideration as we build the next generation of internet infrastructure. Mark Nottingham has done an excellent job writing such balanced and accessible memo in a handy, shareable document to get people familiarized with the concept and its nuance. That link again: RFC 9518: Centralization, Decentralization, and Internet Standards

    Concentric circles of content

    Boris goes through his complex social media setup:

    Mostly POSSE bmannconsulting.com

    I appreciate the walkthrough and seeing others’s setup. After about 3 months on Micro.blog I feel like I could still go further. I am partial-POSSE (Publish on Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere) but not quite ready for PESOS (Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate to Own Site).


    I use Micro blog as my main launch point on the web now, cross-posting to my 🦋 Bluesky (@chadkohalyk.com) and 🐘Mastodon account (@chadkoh@indieweb.social). I have Bridgy working for my Bluesky account so replies there come back here which is good, but haven’t figured out a workaround to do that for my Mastodon account. The Micro blog has its own Fedi address which can be followed at @chadkoh@micro.blog, but I x-post everything anyways so there isn’t really a need to follow that. I don’t really want to go through another Masto migration and consolidate my main fedi presence to @micro.blog 🫤 (my turn to cite Erin Kissane, this time on the challenge of Mastodon migrations).

    Twitter of course is gone (archives here or here) and I do have a company Fedi handle @chad@fission.social which I actually don’t use that much since any “professional” content I post pretty much just goes straight into my normal feeds.

    I really enjoy the bookshelf and photos features of Micro Blog. It gives people a good sense of what is going on in my world without overwhelming them. There is much more detail on my Goodreads (in terms of updates and tracking of reading) and Flickr (where I post a lot more pics than what goes on my blog). I could theoretically push my Goodreads RSS feed and all my Flickr posts back to Microblog but I think that might be a bit overkill for most audiences. 🤔

    Simple diagram showing Micro.blog in the center, arrows pointing out to Mastodon and Bluesky, and some questioning arrows from other services to Micro blog (Flickr, Letterboxd, Goodreads), implying the question of “to PESOS or not?”

    Social “media” sidebar

    Goodreads is the social reader’s bane of existence. Truly a template of corporate acquisition, centralization, and enshittification. I was able to quit Facebook and Google (except for shared docs with people) but cannot quit Amazon! Anyways, I started using Bookwyrm (chadkoh@bookwyrm.social), a fediverse social book-tracker, last year. It is mostly okay but has some shortcomings. I would love to make a Goodreads alt using the AT Protocol (see my call on Bluesky here).

    I use book social networks not for their recommendation engines, but for the social part: I want to know what everyone else is reading! ATP could be a good solution because you don’t have your book activity and reviews locked up in another silo, and ATP could provide the underlying infra for social network effects. I wonder if the ATP approach could result in a better experience than ActivityPub in this instance? 🤔

    Once you have books, then you do film, tv, comics, anime, etc. Media tracking, sharing, and reviews are a huge part of user-generated content online, and just like journalists being able to take their audiences with them I think people with a large corpus of social UGC would appreciate being able to maintain control over their activity.

    Concluding consensus

    The online CCU (Chad Cinematic Universe) has many different components and I fear bringing them all together in one place… is just too much! Splitting things up a little, with specific feeds (just follow my books on GR or BW, or movies on Letterboxd, or photos on Flickr) allows people to get just the right amount of Chad they can handle. If they want a more general feed they can go directly to https://micro.chadkohalyk.com and get a little taste of everything. And then of course, if they want a personal wrap-up on more of a monthly basis, they can subscribe to my newsletter (glibly named chadlibs) where I just share the highlights. I try to provide options to meet people where they are at… which has led to this fairly complex setup. But I do think it could be better.

    Any suggestions?

    Best of 2023

    Between two temple eaves with shining brass details, the sky is filled with highly defined puffy white clouds that look like they are illustrated

    I think this photo is my fav of the year.

    Historically my annual “best of” posts are a roundup of the best books and film I consumed, but this year I would like to add a little bit more about personal developments. With my father-in-law passing in 2022, this year was about cleaning up the estate, healing, and enjoying Japan before returning to Canada.

    We were able to get quite a bit of travel in: Tanegashima, Kagoshima, and Kirishima in the south; a summer break in Iki; and in the north Iwate, Fukushima and Aomori. For work I took two trips to Canada and had the privilege to visit Istanbul. It was a good year for travel, though I am kicking myself for missing out on Causal Islands and I was hoping to visit Germany at some point this year.

    Losing 5 kilograms has been on my annual TODO list since Iki, but I could not justify locking myself up in a gym multiple times a week when my time in Japan is limited and I could be out seeing things. We are in the home stretch, the last few months until we leave Japan. This time it has a feeling of finality since we leave no parents and no apartment behind. When we leave Japan this time we will do so without leaving any roots. We are on the verge of one volume closing and a whole new book beginning.

    40 Questions

    Last month I discovered Steph Ango’s 40 Questions, a framework for annual reflection. I used it to think about my year and found it useful. I will share a few of my answers here publicly:

    Did anyone close to you die?
    For the first time in 4 years I can say “No!”

    Who did you miss?
    Lots of people. This year has been a lonely one for me. This is probably the biggest reason I look forward to returning to Canada in 2024: to hang out with my friends in person. Now, we had some friends come visit us in Japan and I met old friends on my travels to Canada and Turkey. I was especially happy to share Kyoto with people from “back home” (none of my family could handle the air travel), but maybe that oasis of excitement ended up making me feel even more lonesome.

    Whose behavior merited celebration?
    100 Rabbits, who I met in person this year. They live much further along the ethical lifestyle spectrum than I can, which I admire. As a society we need examples like this. I even looked at buying a boat this summer!

    What political issue stirred you the most?
    Not quite sure about specific events, since there were so many, but in terms of overall trends, I got a lot more into anarchist philosophy.

    What valuable life lesson did you learn this year?
    How pretty much everything is a coordination problem, and we have to figure out how to work together in this world. This drives my interest in both governance and anarchism. It also leads to my conviction that the way I can fight climate change is by working for a better, interoperable, and unitary internet. The internet is the best global coordination platform the world has ever known, and we are going to need it if we are going to solve the climate crisis.

    What is a quote that sums up your year?

    “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”
    ― John Maynard Keynes

    A note on the Buddhist path

    One of my goals for 2023 was doing more sutta study, which I did with a group of upasika from all over the world via a Zoom reading club in the early part of the year. We had weekly meetings on each chapter of The Island. This actually blends in with another trend for 2023: upāsaka training. During all of 2022 I was committed to a year of being an upāsaka, and in 2023 I actually kinda surprisingly pretty much continued that path. I meditated nearly every day this year (missed just 4 days), only drank alcohol four times, and still did about 20 uposatha days where I committed to the 8 precepts (during the upāsaka year I did about 70).

    Best of Reading

    Okay, now on to the more traditional annual media wrap-up.

    Of my 30 book goal I read 36 books, which is not the most I have ever done, but I had a lot of podcasts to listen to this year. (24 of those finished books were in audio!)

    My book club only met 3 times this year, but we read my favourite fiction book of the year: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. I am not a gamer, but I am a Gen Xer and came of age during this time. The emotion just sucked me in. The book played me like a game. And I recognize a lot of the work relationship stuff from my time in startups. An excellent read.

    cover of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

    For non-fiction I read a number of important books, including classics like Ostrom’s Governing the Commons. New releases like Crack-Up Capitalism and Underground Empire: How America Weaponized the World Economy really captured some of the ailments of the world we live in, but I think I enjoyed Cory Doctorow’s The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation even more since it presents solutions to make things better.

    Cover of the Internet Con

    Best of Watching

    I did not watch much cinema this year, but I did finally see 2022 Oscar winner Everything Everywhere All at Once which blew me away. I saw it while in Canada in January, and as soon as it was available in theatres in Japan I took my wife. Many tears were shed. We watched it again in September. The Daniels captured so much about the Asian immigrant experience in North America.

    Movie poster for Everything Everywhere All at Once

    Most of my movie-watching time this year was with the kids. The new Spider-Man and Barbie were good. I did enjoy the popcorn-fun of Dungeons & Dragons. When I did get some screentime alone at home it was mostly television. I caught up on the last two seasons of Ted Lasso which was my fav tv series of this year by far. It hit me on a deep level making me consider my personal leadership style and more importantly my relationship to my own mental health. Football is life!

    The Numbers for 2023

    🖋 16 posts on the old blog and 9 long-form posts on the new microblog which I started posting to in October

    ✉️ 12 email monthly newsletters sent

    📸 2184 photos and vids on Flickr

    📚 36 books read

    🎞 29 films watched

    Previous annual wrap-ups

    Posted on the old Wordpress blog

    My best to you in the new year!

    Hagia Sophia

    The Hagia Sophia on a sunny day

    As described in my previous post, Istanbul is a city of layers. Nothing demonstrates this more than one of the gems of the city: the Hagia Sophia.

    Built on the site of an earlier Christian church erected in 336 AD by Constantius II (son of the Emperor Constantine) the current building was made in the 532 AD by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. For a thousand years it was the largest building in the world. Except for a short time as a Catholic church after the Fourth Crusade in the 13th century, the Hagia Sophia stood as a cathedral of the Eastern Orthodox tradition until the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453. Since then the Ayasofya has been a grand mosque until 1935 when Atatürk, in his drive to secularize the newly founded Republic of Turkey, converted it to a museum. Most recently, in a controversial move in 2020, the long-serving conservative president Erdoğan converted it back into a working mosque.

    This is the most barebones of history for structure that has been standing — and used — for more than fifteen centuries. The Ayasofya is an excellent symbol of the historical layers of the city of Istanbul, as throughout the centuries it has gained new additions, but with much of its original structure still shining through. I would like to give you just a few examples. Come with me on a short tour!

    During my stay in Istanbul I went to the Ayasofya twice since it was so amazing. Both times I approached from the “back”… once coming down from the Topkapi Palace (photos) — which holds such treasures as the Topkapi dagger, the staff of Moses, and the arm of John the Baptist — the other time when a frustrated taxi driver angered by traffic dropped us off in a sidestreet saying merely “You walk from here”.

    The Ayasofya stands across the plaza from the famous Blue Mosque, a beautiful built to purpose mosque made in the early 17th century. The Ayasofya in contrast has had so many additions as it changed civilizational hands that it looks more like something from the “lived in” universe of Star Wars.

    the red walls of the church, brick buttresses, and one brick minaret

    From the outside you can see the red walls of the original church. The massive dome (more on that later) is 32 meters across and so heavy that the church walls have been buckling so later architects installed buttressing to keep the walls standing straight. There are four minarets which were added at various times, one made of red brick, adding to the architectural pastiche.

    A series of brick  buttresses supporting the wall

    Circling around to the front you will see a line of people out into the plaza. Since the building is once again an operating mosque, five times a day tourists are shuffled out to make way for people doing their daily prayers. The line out front can get quite long as people wait during prayer times, but if you time it right you can basically walk right in. After passing some metal detectors you get a close view of the buttresses before entering the building from the side. In the outer hall you are treated to domed ceilings with golden tiled mosaics. It feels very Byzantine. Shoe lockers line the walls where you can store your footwear before entering the mosque. The marble thresholds have been worn down by the passing feet of millions of petitioners through the centuries, and look like melted butter.

    Wide angle of the interior of the Hagia Sophia

    The crowd pushes you along to enter the cavernous building. Large circular chandeliers hang from the vaulting ceiling. Looking up — and everybody is looking up — two semi-domes help to prop up the 32 meter wide main dome which at its height it 55.6 meters above the floor. There are no supporting pillars in the middle of the building, so it feels absolutely huge inside.

    Wide angle showing the center dome with two half domes on either side

    This wide angle shot from inside shows the two semi-domes on the left and right which support the main dome. Below are the pillars of the second floor, which you used to be able to go up into, but no longer. Around the center dome you can also spot the four “biblically accurate” angels who also support the dome. In the Ottoman era the faces of the seraphim were covered with stars, but one has been restored with its face.

    Everywhere you go inside people are staring up in awe and taking photos. But there are many other details to look at other than the domed ceiling. The columns were imported from all over the Mediterranean and some have special stories. People sit on the floor and rest their backs against the columns as they gaze upward. But if you look downward, to the lush green carpet you find another asymmetry of time: the lines on the carpet are at an off-angle to the rest of the building. These are the lines that parishioners line up as they pray towards Mecca, which of course the building was not designed to line up with. I mean, it was constructed more than 60 years before the founding of Islam!

    There are many, many more details but I hope this gives you a glimpse at not only of the historical significance of the Hagia Sofia, but also as a symbol of the history of Istanbul.

    To see more photos and videos of the interior and surrounding area, including the call to prayer from the perfectly symmetrical Blue Mosque, see my album on Flickr.

    Perspective on Palestine — Review of The Hundred Years' War on Palestine

    Cover of The Hundred Years' War on Palestine

    In The Hundred Years' War on Palestine Rashid Khalidi takes us through six turning points of modern Palestinian history woven with family and personal history, including his frontline experience escaping Beirut during the 1982 Lebanon War. Khalidi has a long history as an advocate and an academic and writes a highly detailed account with an insider view. He covers the early Zionist movement, the Nakba of 1948, the Six Day War of 1967, the Lebanon War, the Intifadas and the rise of Hamas, giving context throughout as to who the geostrategic players are and how they change.

    The book ends in 2017, with Trump making promises for a new deal for peace. Things don’t look good for the Palestinians. Khalidi offers some ideas on how to proceed in a constructive manner, from first principles of equality for both Palestinians and Israelis. There is a lot in the book about crafting a more favourable public opinion of Palestinians around the world, from a few different angles. It certainly presented perspectives new to me. One key argument is that the world cannot afford to have the US continue as sole, self-selected guarantor of the peace process. That is borne not just of the evidence presented in the book, but of what we have seen in the past couple of months.

    I listened to an interview with Khalidi on a podcast or on YouTube somewhere right after October 7th. Many people were giving this book plaudits, and since he was so well spoken I thought I would give it a try. I am no specialist, so I cannot recommend this book with any real authority. But I found it very readable, appreciated the occasional personal history elements sprinkled throughout, and came away with some new frames for thinking about the problem. But I didn’t have to read this detailed and complex book to know that they need to STOP.

    Istanbul — Look around, feel history

    Shoreline of the Golden Horn at dusk. A few large classical mosques are visible.

    Istanbul, Constantinople, Nova Roma — the city at the crossroads of the world — is a city of layers. First settled 6000 years ago each new community was built on top of the previous. And being located at such a strategic point as the world’s only trans-continental city, there have been a lot of different people groups and empires with designs on the city.

    I was in town for just over ten days, mostly for work, but my old pal Chris Gunson flew up from Dubai and we toured around together for a few days. Twenty years ago Chris and I used to talk and trade book recommendations about transcontinental history, but this was the first time we could walk old streets together (a meeting in Kazakhstan was aborted in 2004 for a bad visa, which redirected me southwards to Kashgar and the Pamir Plateau. A few pics from that trip long ago.)

    This post serves as a bit of a trip report. You may want to read it while browsing the galleries of photos on Flickr, linked at the bottom of this post.

    A neon sign at a hotel bar saying: Look around, feel history

    A sign through the window.

    Istanbul has changed hands between the Greeks and Romans a number of times, before being conquered by the Ottomans in 1453. After so many years of Turkish rule, it is easy to forget that Istanbul was once part of “Magna Grecia”, Greater Greece, and even part of the Delian League. The old names of cities found in Thucydides and other classics are still there under Turkish localized names: Smyrna is now the seaside resort of İzmir; in 325 CE the First Council of Nicaea was held in the modern town of İznik; one afternoon we crossed the Bosporus in a small ferry to visit Kadıköy, an older area of the Asian side of Istanbul that used to be called Chalcedon, where the fourth ecumenical Christian council was held in 451 CE. This is in fact the area where archeological artifacts have been found dating back to 5500 BCE.

    As Constantinople, the capital of eastern Christianity and inheritor of the Roman Empire after Rome fell and the West sunk into the Dark Ages, the city suffered many attempts at conquest by various people groups such as the Goths and Persians. It was impregnable, largely due to the massive triple city wall, first built by Constantine and then added to by King Theodoseus in the 5th Century. They held for a thousand years before finally being breached in 1453, when the Ottoman conquerers used massive cannons of Hungarian design to launch cannon balls weighing 500 kilograms into the walls. This created holes for the invaders to break through, but didn’t actually destroy the walls which still stand today. Just a short walk from the 1453 Museum, which describes the conquering of the city in very cinematic fashion, you can get right up to the walls. I saw tourists crawling up and inside. Today the wall runs alongside a freeway. From working class neighbourhoods inside the walls people drive their cars through old arched gates to access the freeway. Here and there in the green space between the walls and the freeway people have planted vegetable gardens!

    Large ancient walls in the background, disappearing into the distance. In the foreground, in front of the walls, are vegetable gardens

    5th century walls of Theodoseus.

    The Ottoman period lasted until 1923 when the Republic of Turkey was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who transformed Turkish society. Driving into the city from Istanbul Airport, the busiest airport in Europe, I immediately noticed all the Turkish flags hanging from apartment windows and strung along and across the streets. This year is the 100th anniversary of the founding. Not only that, but the day after I landed was the anniversary of Atatürk’s death, on November 10th 1938 at 9:04am. Why do I know the time? Well, while we were having breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of my hotel, with an epic view of the sunrise over the Asian side of the city, all of a sudden I could hear the horns of the ships in the harbour blasting simultaneously. I thought it was some sort of earthquake warning or air-raid siren. Looking around I noticed all the hotel restaurant staff line up and stand at attention. Not knowing what was happening I stopped eating and just waited for something to indicate what was going on. After a minute of very loud silence, the staff went back to work and the harbour continued to buzz with activity. This happens every year, and I heard from one Turkish man that back in the day drivers would stop and get out of their cars to stand by open driver doors out of respect.

    A busy shopping street with people walking. Above are strings criss-crossing the street with celebratory Turkish flags hanging down

    Turkish patriotism hangs above everyone’s heads.

    Evidence of the 100 year anniversary are all over. Many shops have 100th Anniversary marketing displays in their windows. At Taksim Square, a large plaza in the heart of the tourist district, is a massive circular display blaring out patriotic messages featuring smiling families, guns, and fighter planes. There is a huge light show at the gigantic new mosque on the square, an initiative by the long-time President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Taksim Square is normally thought of as a symbol of the country’s republicanism and secularism. The new mosque, completed in 2021, is a conspicuous symbol of conservatism on Turkey’s contemporary politics.

    Erdogan’s presence is easily spotted across the city. He used to be mayor of the city, but ever since the AKP got into national power and he became president, the politics of the country have slanted more conservative. Some of Erdogan’s initiatives, what he himself has called his “crazy ideas”, are large scale construction projects such as the controversial Istanbul Airport (for whom allegedly all the building and maintenance contracts went to his relations) and his giant canal proposal. Other initiatives are more on the side of promotion of Islamic culture, like the controversial Taksim Mosque. When looking across the Bosphorus Strait from my hotel, the horizon of the Asian side of Istanbul is dominated by two structures. First is the giant Çamlıca Tower, the tallest structure in Istanbul, a telecom tower with observation deck and restaurants. To the left is the Grand Çamlıca Mosque, the largest mosque in Turkey able to hold 63,000 worshippers for prayer times. This mosque was opened in 2019 and sometimes referred to in the streets as “His Mosque”. You will note that it has 6 minarets.

    Skyline of the Asian side of Istanbul at sunrise, with a few discernible buildings

    Tower to the right, mosque to left.

    The only other mosque in Istanbul to have such a thing is the beautiful Blue Mosque, across the river to the south on the Golden Horn in the old city. This mosque was built in the early 17th Century by the master architect Sinan (who was obsessed with the Hagia Sophia, topic of a future post) at the direction of Sultan Ahmed I. At the time, the only other mosque with six minarets was the mosque of the Ka’aba in Mecca. When the Blue Mosque was completed people were shocked at the audacity, thinking the Sultan too proud. To resolve the situation he sponsored a seventh minaret at Mecca.

    The area around the Blue Mosque is spectacular to walk around. But beware of the terrible Istanbul traffic in getting there! One time we had a taxi driver frustrated and yelling at everyone around us stop the car and get out, go five cars up to yell and someone, then came back to tell us “You walk from here.” In front of the Blue Mosque is a plaza that is built upon the old Hippodrome which is a few layers down. As the capital of Eastern Rome they people needed their bread and circuses! In ancient times the spina of the hippodrome, the long section down the middle which charioteers would race around, used to have many treasures brought from across the empire. Now only three remain: an obelisk brought from Egypt In 390 CE which dates to 1490 BCE; another obelisk of more murky past; and the remains of the Serpent Column which Constantine brought from Delphi in 324. I was very excited to see the Serpent Column, a bronze pillar cast by the Greeks in celebration of their victory against the invading Persians in the 5th century BCE. This thing is 2500 years old and just sitting outside! You can go and see it any time. Amazing!

    Chad taking a selfie of him pointing at the Serpent Column. In the background is an Egyptian obelisk

    Very excited to be so close to a 2500 year old artifact!

    My most favourite thing of this area is the Hagia Sophia, the cathedral originally built in the 4th C and converted to a mosque in 1453. That deserves its own post.

    In cold winds and rain I wandered from the Blue Mosque and the Ayyasofia up to the Grand Bazaar, a mostly covered shopping area with over 4000 stores. Here I badly negotiated for a box of delicious Turkish Delight and a nazar pendant. I am terrible at negotiating in these situations. Though all in all I think I did pretty well and was never taken for a real ride. Once we fell for the old shoeshiner- dropped-brush-scam, but other than that, our wallets were safe.

    The weather was bad for some of the days. The wind rocked our ferry crossing back from the Asian side, and one freezing morning when I went to the local Kathie Dunyasi (a kind of Turkish Starbucks) all the seats were taken by cats who came in from the cold!

    Other days the sky was a gorgeous blue and we could walk the steep, narrow streets around the Galata Tower, the historic district of Genoese traders. The cobblestones and European buildings reminded me of Lisbon. I have now been to the Westernmost and Easternmost edges of Europe, but never in between. Also, both Lisbon and Istanbul are Cities with Seven Hills! I am cursed! (However, I found out later that many more cities claim this honour).

    On another sunny day I was able to walk up to the Topkapi Palace, built by the Sultan and home to many treasures. The Palace is located at the tiP of the Golden Horn and affords clear views of the north part of Istanbul and the main bridge that crosses the Bosphorus to the Asian side of the city. Inside the complex we wended our way through the harem, visited the sultan’s chamber room and bath, and took in all sorts of treasures like the Topkapi Dagger, which features massive emeralds on its hilt. I first saw the Topkapi dagger in Osaka many years ago when it was on tour around the world. I was very glad to see it in its home.

    The gold filagreed curved Topkapi dagger with its three enormous emeralds on the hilt, sitting on a red cushion

    The Topkapi Dagger, in all its shiny glory.

    In 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, the city was ransacked by Europeans at the behest of Rome. They destroyed much, but also stole important Christian relics like the robe of Mary and probably the Shroud of Turin. There still remain some artifacts, held in Topkapi Palace. There you can see the relics like the arm of John the Baptist, the staff of Moses, David’s sword, and a whole bunch of personal belongings of the Prophet Muhammad.

    It was short, but I enjoyed walking the hills of this old city, visiting just a couple of its 3500 mosques and two of its many football stadiums. I ate well, but did not get the opportunity to enjoy a Turkish bath. Also, there are a lot of smokers, both inside and outside of restaurants, so beware! (In fact even the taxi drivers smoked like chimneys while they raced through the streets, or sat perfectly still in traffic banging on their car horns.)

    In preparation for the trip I read Thomas F. Madden‘s Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World which gave me just enough detail to appreciate the layers of history of the city. Also, check out the episode of Geography Now on Turkey which is lots of fun.

    Photo Galleries on Flickr

    Attending the Internet Governance Forum - Stakeholders

    Presentation in progress. A panel of people sit on a stage. The speaker is projected onto a large screen with captions on the screen saying:Promote the use of technology and digital services while regulating the activities of big tech firms and data usage.

    (This is a post in a series about attending the Internet Governance Forum 2023 in Kyoto.)

    To describe where the Internet Governance Forum fits in terms of internet governance, we have to also describe the other stakeholders in the system. Internet governance is polycentric. The IGF is just one part of a network of stakeholders that hold influence over how the internet works. Its key mandate is to bring various stakeholders together in a forum to discuss public policy, which is a key differentiator from other technology fora.

    Being an initiative of the UN, you might think that nation states are the only important stakeholder, but the IGF was designed from the beginning with multistakeholderism in mind. In fact, multistakeholderism was probably one of the top three topics discussed during the week in Kyoto, possibly triggered by the actions of China at previous meetings as it tried to use its influence as a big stakeholder to try and force internet governance into mere bilateralism (You can read a little background here. I asked people who were at the meeting in Ethiopia who told me some of the stunts being pulled by the Chinese contingent there. This year it seemed pretty quiet to my eyes.).

    The IGF holds dear a key belief of a singular, unbroken, and supranational internet. Thus it tries to include a broad number of regional and international actors to come and weigh in on important debates. Let’s break down the organization of the IGF first, and then connect that up to the wider web of who else is involved in governing the net.

    Breaking down the IGF

    First you have the MAG, or Multistakeholder Advisory Group, which is made up of 56 representatives from various stakeholder groups. They meet a few times a year in order to execute the annual meeting (you can see the list of current MAG members here). The MAG is supported by the Secretariat, which is the UN staff based out of Geneva that support the activities of the MAG. This group of just 6 people are the only full-time staff of the IGF, and are ultimately responsible for running a global hybrid conference with 11,145 registrants. 😱

    Beyond those two main parts, there are something called NRIs, or “National, Sub-Regional, Regional and Youth IGF initiatives.“ This is a wider network of smaller fora organized either geographically or around a specific theme, holding their own annual meetings. There about 123 regional and national IGFs recognized by the global IGF in Geneva (here is Canada’s and Japan’s). Youth Initiatives can be part of regional IGFs or independently organized. They are the IGF’s way of capacity building by increasing youth participation in internet governance.

    The stakeholder community

    So, the MAG, Secretariat, and NRIs engage with other stakeholders, bringing them to the table for policy discussion. The IGF groups stakeholders into the following five categories:

    • Government
    • Intergovernmental Organization
    • Civil Society
    • Private Sector
    • Technical Community

    When you apply to attend, you must identify yourself as coming from one of those groups. When I looked at the participants list I counted about 4000 organizations being represented. That is from 178 countries. So, I won’t list all the stakeholders, but I can give a few examples to give you an idea:

    • For Government there are many lawmakers and representatives of agencies from different countries. A politician from Nigeria asked some incisive questions at a DNS session I was in, and I had a good hallway chat with a person from USAID.
    • Representatives from the UN, the EU, ITU etc are in the Intergovernmental Organization category. I was in a couple sessions with an OECD policy analyst working on Data Governance and Privacy who I liked.
    • Civil Society includes human rights NGOs and other advocacy groups. The Internet Society, Wikimedia Foundation, Access Now, and the Green Web Foundation. I was very impressed with the well-spoken Anita Gurumurthy, ED for IT for Change in India. Many of these people spoke up about the IGF being held in Saudi Arabia next year, feeling like this stakeholder group is being shut out.
    • The Private Sector group captures companies and interested individuals. I registered as this group. But it does contain large corporate interests. Attendees from Microsoft, Google, Netflix, and Meta were there. The head of public policy Cloudflare gave a couple of good sessions, and the Global Product Policy at Mozilla was very well-spoken.
    • The final group – Technical Community – is a big one which includes reps from Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs) like the IETF and W3C, professional orgs like IEEE, as well as important internet organizations like IANA which delegates IP numbers to the five Regional Internet Registries who coordinate via the Number Resource Organization (NRO). There was a large ICANN contingent in Kyoto, and booths from various operator organizations such as ISPs, IXPs, and Telcos like NTT. However, I felt that the technical presence was a bit lacking. More about this in another post.

    One other group that was well-represented was academia. There were many scholars and students there, especially from Kyoto which is a college town.

    Pie chart showing participation by stakeholder group: Government 16%, Intergovernmental Organization 6%, Civil Society 24%, Private Sector 37%, Technical Community 14%, Media 2%, Children 1%

    Source: IGF 2023 Participation and Programme Statistics

    So, who does really run the Internet?

    Infographic answering the question Who runs the internet? by showing that: No one person, company, organization or government runs the Internet. and listing out many of the stakeholders involved
    An heroic attempt at explaining how no single entity runs the internet, from the Wikipedia article on internet governance.

    Internet governance is continuously evolving as we try and solve complex problems as the internet not only expands in usage across the world, but brings new problems due to scale. Since the first event in 2006, IGF participation has grown, especially with the ability to attend virtually. Here are the registration numbers for the last 10 years (includes both in-person and online):

    • Bali 2013 - 2,000
    • Istanbul 2014 - 3,694
    • João Pessoa 2015 - 2,130+ (couldn’t find online attendance stats)
    • Jalisco 2016 - 4,000
    • Geneva 2017 - 3,680
    • Paris 2018 - 4,400
    • Berlin 2019 - 5,679
    • Online 2020 - 6,150
    • Katowice 2021 - 10,371
    • Addis Ababa 2022 - 5,120
    • Kyoto 2023 - 11,145

    More and more stakeholders are taking an interest. Countries may make the laws and look for input (or don’t) from other stakeholder groups, but they aren’t necessarily the final stop on the power spectrum. For example Mark Nottingham points out (in an excellent post!) that what standards orgs do is a kind of ”architectural regulation” which:

    … sits alongside other modalities of regulation like law, norms, and markets. Where the FTC uses law, the IETF uses architecture – shaping behaviour by limiting what is possible in the world, rather than imposing ex post consequences.

    That makes Standards Development Organizations another kind of Transnational Private Regulator (TPR).

    There are many ways to get your say and how we govern the internet is not set in stone. We still have another 2.6 billion unconnected, the ongoing threat of a splinternet, geopolitics and geoeconomics amongst other influencing factors. And we need need NEED to have this communication and coordination infrastructure up and running if we are ever to work together globally in defeating the biggest existential threat on the planet: the climate crisis. Ultimately, this is why I find the IGF process so fascinating and intend to become a more engaged stakeholder.


    Attending the Internet Governance Forum - Experience

    Pond and garden of the KICC on a nice day. To the right is one of the a-frame buildings of the center

    (This is a post in a series about attending the Internet Governance Forum 2023 in Kyoto.)

    The Kyoto International Conference Center is a sprawling complex on the north side of the city, at the very last stop of the Kyoto Municipal Subway line. The subway exit features a circular chamber with a 10m wide IGF logo on the floor welcoming visitors. Hallways are lined with posters for the event, and two escalators later you exit to the ground floor and a red carpeted entrance.

    10 meter across circular IGF2023 logo on the floor of a subway station

    Participants take selfies at a couple of entrance displays before heading into the building and passing through one of about ten metal detectors. On the left of this “new hall” are about thirty booths where you can complete your registration and retrieve your security pass for the five day conference. UN Security personnel augment the facility security, with prefectural and national police positioned outside the building at secure points.

    Display with two maple trees, one green and one turned red with the season. In the background is a picture of the Toji pagoda, above is a sign for the 18th Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum. Chad takes a selfie at the entrance sign for the conference in front of a meter-tall novely #IGF2023 hashtag

    The Kyoto International Conference Center is made up of a number of buildings but at the center is the original concrete building finished in 1966 in the style of Metobolism (a la the Nakagin Capsule Tower that was torn down last year in Tokyo). It has nary a straight wall, with vaulted ceilings that remind me of the shinmei-zukuri architecture on display at the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie (see a trip report from a few years ago).

    It was here at the KICC in 1997 where the Kyoto Protocol bound the world in an ultimately failed commitment to lower greenhouse emissions and avoid the climate crisis. Luckily the Internet Governance Forum is a gathering for dialogue, without any mandate for decision-making. This freedom of discussion gives participants a chance to speak their mind and not temper their views in order to release a singular consensus-circumscribed statement.

    The schedule of 355 sessions was broken down by a few tracks covering the following themes:

    • Al & Emerging Technologies
    • Avoiding Internet Fragmentation
    • Cybersecurity, Cybercrime and Online Safety
    • Data Governance and Trust
    • Digital Divides and Inclusion
    • Global Digital Governance and Cooperation
    • Human Rights and Freedoms
    • Sustainability & Environment

    Each of the above themes was its own track, but there were also the cross-cutting:

    • High-Level Leaders Track
    • Youth Track
    • Parliamentary Track
    • Intersessional Work
    • Newcomers Track

    That is a lot of content! Every room was equipped with a multi-camera setup and a whole A/V staff so you can watch all the videos on YouTube (with Spanish, French, Japanese, Russian, or Arabic simultaneous translation).

    Every session I attended started about 10 minutes late. The speakers were all accomplished public speakers, especially notable considering that for many English would be their second, third, fourth, or fifth language. People would float in and out of the room, either checking it out to see if it was worth it, or seeing what they could before having to rush off to another session which clashed on the schedule.

    There are many different sized rooms. A session might be in the main plenary hall, which seats 2000, or in a smaller side room shaped like a classroom for only a couple dozen people. Up on the sixth floor were a bunch of boardrooms where the invite-only bilateral meetings were held. There was a whole other conference going on up there.

    Inside of the main KICC lobby with the green carpet and not-so-accessible staircases everywhere

    Between sessions people would leave the wood-panelled rooms, cross wide fields of thick green carpet traversing stairs going in every direction past banquet tables laden with silver-aluminum kegs of conference coffee (a very special global brand that might also be the outcome of some international global standards conference decades ago), down one hall and then another, to the Annex or second Annex. At every juncture you were pretty much guaranteed to see a handful of the 6,279 on-site participants perusing large displays of the floor map, packets looking for the best path to their next session.

    Attendees came from 178 countries. Many represented in their cultural regalia: you could see sari, topi, gele, and more. I was there as a boring middle-aged white North American in a blue striped buttondown and black slacks. 😅

    Along the halls were low leather couches where people would meet, holding paper cups of coffee while deep in discussion in many different languages. Many people seemed to know one another. Or they might be typing into a laptop catching up on work, or even napping on a bundled up jacket catching up on sleep as they suffered jet lag.

    At about 11:30, for two hours, lunch was served in the two great dining halls where people would gather and discuss over bento boxes or a plateful of buffet food. There was also a cafe area with an outside patio where people could enjoy the warm October Kyoto weather (and a cigarette… except for that one handsome French guy who dressed really well and smoked a pipe! ).

    Light from the sun setting streams through the windows above the cafe area where people have gathered and are in conversation

    At the end of the day, usually close to 7pm I would trudge back from the Annex, past the garden and by the lounge area, down the main stairs and across the bridge over the canal (with many police standing around on watch) to the Event Hall where all the now empty vendors booths are located, then out the New Hall past the metal detectors and into the cool evening air only to head into the underground for the subway home.


    Attending the Internet Governance Forum - An intro

    Asst Secretary General Jinhua Li and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida enter the stage

    The Internet Governance Forum is a multistakeholder forum established by the United Nations and held annually around the world since 2006. The 18th edition was held in Kyoto, the city in which I reside, so I decided to attend.

    I have been to a few technical conferences, barricaded in rooms with passionate technologists arguing over the most minute details of a newly forming standard, but the IGF promised something different. This is a policy forum to discuss the societal impacts of digital technology worldwide. It is “multistakeholder” in that participants come not just from the national governments of UN member states, but also inter- and non-governmental organizations, private sector, and the technical community. The forum brings together people from all over the globe (11,145 registered participants with 6,279 from 178 countries showing up in person in Kyoto) to talk about how we should govern this supranational resource we call “the internet.” It is certainly my kind of place!

    Over the five day period I attended just 21 of 355 sessions. My approach was simply to spend the entire conference listening and learning. I did not speak up during sessions, but approached panelists afterwards or in the halls including people from more familiar technical forae like the IETF, ICANN, and IEEE, but also many human rights activists, politicians, and even more lawyers. High-level speakers included people like Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, former PM Jacinda Ardern, Maria Ressa, Meredith Whittaker, Vint Cerf, and more. I spoke to many people on duty in the vendor booth area, including the policy team of Wikimedia, The Citizen Lab, Github, LEGO, and more. Each time I chatted with someone I would ask the same three questions:

    • How many IGFs have you been to?
    • Has it changed over the years?
    • What is the goal of your organization in attending?

    That was usually enough to kick off a conversation, sometimes leading to a second convo, and always to an exchange of business cards.

    I wanted to find out a few things: 1) why do people go to IGF? 2) why should the average dev working on an app care? and 3) as someone who works in tech, has an MA in International relations, how have I not heard of this before?!

    There are many answers to those above questions, and I spent the five days from morning to night learning a lot about the structures and actors involved in internet governance. Too much for a single blog post, so I think I will post a series of shorter notes in the coming weeks. Some topics I would like broach are:

    • How the event was structured and what it was like shuffling from room to room
    • how the IGF fits into the global internet governance regime as a whole
    • Multistakeholderism and its challeng{es|ers}
    • What trending topics were being covered in the sessions and in the halls
    • Some of my memorable sessions and interactions

    Outputs from the forum are still being released, so there might be some other topics to report on. If you have any questions or requests please let me know and I will try to cover those as I progress.

    Posts in the Attending the Internet Governance Forum series


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