All posts by Mike Massaro

Internet without Net Neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on whether to essentially repeal Net Neutrality on December 14, which, if repealed, would be the biggest attack to Americans’ right to use the internet freely.

Net neutrality has been an issue in the U.S. since the internet has been used by Americans in browsers. Freedom to roam the internet with no discrimination has been assumed to be the moral right even before official legislation stated so. Corporations’ attempts to control internet access and bandwidth through Congress have been repeatedly shut down.

It wasn’t until April 13, 2015 that America presented regulations that prohibited internet service providers (ISPs) from discrimination via lopsided bandwidth distribution and complete bans on certain sites and functions the internet provides. Even though Net Neutrality has only been in effect since June 12, 2015, this repeal could be symbolic of a power shift from internet users to internet providers, which will have very real consequences.

With such a huge swing in power, the amount of potential danger to the internet is staggering. Many people worry how drastically their own lives will be affected by a repeal of Net Neutrality. Many parts of the internet will simply die off because they can’t survive in the new, harsh climate, while bigger corporations, like Amazon or Netflix, will build a monopoly on their respective market. Ultimately, Net Neutrality in the U.S. provided a protective barrier for all internet users, promising equal bandwidth distribution across every part of the internet, but if and/or when this barrier is shut down, everyone will have a different, personal reason to mourn the internet as we currently know it.

One valid and popular reason that people use the internet is to share their own creations and have them spread throughout the web for people to enjoy and support. Uploading and sharing personal works on the internet is an effective process to circulate one’s work with no cost to the uploader. A repeal of Net Neutrality would mean that ISPs have total manipulation of bandwidth, which grants them the power to dictate where American internet users can upload and what they can upload.

Communal, niche art districts will be largely destroyed because of their inability to compete with bigger sharing platforms. For example, Tumblr has dominated the blog market, which puts sites like DeviantArt and Pixiv in the precarious position of having to directly compete with their toughest competition.

Allegra McComb recently graduated from Stanford with a major in art. She posts her oil paintings all over the internet, advertising her commission prices and original works for people to buy. She uploads her artwork to multiple platforms, which she believes will grant her maximum exposure.

“My main concern is that, what am I going to do when no one else will be able to see my paintings?” said McComb.

“I already have to work a second job at Peet’s [Coffee & Tea]. I’m not sure what I’m going to have to do now.”

It’s not just about art and struggling post-graduate college students, it’s about everything and everyone. If Americans are forced to selectively choose between what parts of the internet they’re allowed access to, most of them will select the biggest option. For example, why pay for Vimeo if you’re already paying for YouTube? This question and logical conclusion provide the mental steps that eventually lead to, if we continue using the Vimeo and YouTube example, a world where YouTube is the site to upload videos to the internet and Vimeo is a mere memory, only brought up in conversation when reminiscing about how the internet used to be.

Mary Roach is a best-selling novelist and award-winning journalist, perhaps best known for her work “Stuff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.” Roach is worried about what the Net Neutrality repeal will do to the publishing process and journalism field. Especially in 2017, Americans are more independent than ever on the internet for their articles and books. With the internet losing its communication equality, the publishing industry is another market that will most likely completely run by sites like Amazon.

“Right now in the office where I work in Oakland, we have cheap internet for everyone,” said Roach.

“If Net Neutrality was repealed, I’m sure the prices would go up. We need the internet in order to communicate and publish. I’m hoping we’ll still be able function, but I’m not sure.”

The ability for internet service providers to control the way otherwise independent content producers are able to publish is not only horrible for the content makers, but also for the consumers. Many people are already worried about the state of our media, with its current controversies of fake news and corruption.

Taking power away from the reader only makes it easier for corporations to hand feed false information to us. Because the concept of Net Neutrality has been assumed since Americans started to browse the internet, there are currently no laws that support the concept of transparency.

That means, especially when Net Neutrality is first repealed, that internet service providers will have more freedom than ever to take bribes, or any other money-driven ulterior motive, in exchange for giving or taking away bandwidth from any site. Essentially, this gives corporations the ability to buy-out their opponent at the cost determined by internet service providers. This is accomplished by the ISPs either making their platform run slower or completely banning it altogether.

“I already have a tough time believing what I read on the internet, I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to trust it if Net Neutrality goes away,” said Brisa Sepulveda, a concerned student majoring in creative writing.

“I’m obviously against it. This is just the government taking away the rights of [the average American citizen] for a profit, again. Nothing we haven’t seen before.”

This new climate also supports the business model of pairing up. If the internet is sold to us in categories, such as “streaming” or “news,” then it only makes sense for corporations to strive for domination in their respective market. Sometimes this results in the smaller sites dying, other times it results in the smaller sites combining into one or simply being bought out, which they hope will morph them into an unbeatable powerhouse.

“We’re already witnessing big companies preparing for a world without Net Neutrality,” said T Michael Liles, an archiving assistant at the J. Paul Leonard Library.

“Companies like Spotify and Hulu are pairing up. They’re already two of the biggest streaming sites on the internet, but in an internet climate that strives to eliminate competition, the only way to survive is to make friends. If you can’t beat them, join them.”

A world without Net Neutrality is hard to imagine because, as Americans, we’ve never lived in it, but that could all change very soon. America has been spiraling into a fascist government that attempts to control its citizens, and what better way to control people by deciding what they see? There are many reasons to be scared about the potential repeal of Net Neutrality and many of them which won’t be seen for some time. Freedom to roam the internet has been assumed to be an innate right, and now that this right is being challenged, we can only hope that internet service providers will emulate practices as close to the original model as they possibly can. The internet will no longer be controlled by the users, but the providers.

Taking it to the Streets

Many San Francisco locals know Haight Street as two things: a tourist trap and a hub for the homeless population, but Christian Calinsky is trying to change this perspective held by the public eye through his program called Taking It to the Streets.

The number one goal of Taking It to the Streets is to get the homeless youth off of Haight Street and into a stable living condition. San Francisco has been attempting to lower the homeless population on Haight Street since the ‘60s, but Calinsky’s program has been more effective in its three years than the city has been in over 50 years.

“We started out as an outreach that just went out on Sundays and gave out bagged lunches,” Calinsky says.

“We only gave ten lunches to test the waters, see what happens, and we also only had a couple of volunteers with us. The next weekend, people had already heard about it, so we moved up to thirty-five bagged lunches and some clothes. The next weekend, we had more donations than we knew what to do with.”

Taking It to the Streets gives the homeless youth of Haight a place to stay in exchange for their service of cleaning the streets that they roam. The program uses its person-power to full effect; dissolving the graffiti off and sweeping the trash in front of small businesses, cleaning up the syringes in alleys where the homeless population inject opioids and stimulants, repainting Haight Street, and everything else that comes with the duty to keep Haight Street clean. Calinsky leads this program, not only get the homeless population in Haight off the streets, but to show that these misunderstood people are hard workers that merely struggle to fit into society, instead of the stereotypical ableist and classist view that dehumanizes them.

 

 

“Whether most people realize it or not, people have a tendency to look at homeless people as failures and subhuman,” said Aditya Sharma, who was the captain of the debate team at his old college and an advocate for getting rid of stigmas regarding the needs of the disabled population.

“People don’t realize that homeless people are homeless for a reason. We should help these people, not judge them.”

Calinsky’s methods have been proven to work by the progress they’ve made. For example, their flexibility to take calls from various merchants around Haight and to clean their brick-and-mortar for free has changed how the merchants treat the homeless people that wander in front of their stores.

“My mom used to work around Haight at salons and she told me one time that she was surprised when she noticed a homeless guy cleaning where she works,” Sage Aguirre explains.

“I think it’s changed how she feels about homeless people. Well, she was pleasantly surprised at the very least.”

His methods are also very effective, to the point where the public notices his efforts merely because of the results. It’s difficult to see the effects of picking trash off the ground unless you saw the state it was in before, but something like a fresh coat of paint on a lamppost is noticeable and appreciated even by tourists. Calinsky has also simplified and expedited this process for maximum coverage.

“We use a paint called Garbage Can Green, not Dark Green, because it’s on everything in the city, like this pole right here,” says Calinsky, as he gestured to a metal rod, functioning as a brace for a tree located in a planter in the sidewalk, framed in the window to his left.

“We even take care of structures with all sorts of colors and repaint them appropriately. We take care of everything.”

Calinsky didn’t come up with this idea, he revived it. In the ‘60s, there was a group who called themselves The Diggers that split themselves up into crews, each had a section of Haight Street that they kept clean. The recycling center in Haight paid The Diggers to clean the streets, but the company was sued for worker’s compensation. Since The Diggers wasn’t an organization, it got shut down.

It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for Take It to the Streets. Their main obstacle being the regulations enforced by the city. Calinsky’s methods are for effectiveness, not to appease the city’s regulations. Although, the city has become more relaxed on regulating Take It to the Streets in particular because it has been able to make an impact on the homeless community, unlike previous attempts.

“The city doesn’t really know how to deal with us,” Calinsky says.

“We just signed a three-year contract with the city, which is huge for an organization that’s only been active three years. Our negotiations were a huge fight because they wanted us to be a certain way.”

Despite this seemingly coherent and efficient methodology, the city still has a problem with some of their implementation. This is due to fundamental ethical differences between the city and Take It to the Streets.

“Our model is housing first. Over the last twenty years, the city has been saying, ‘No, we need to bring services to the people instead of putting them in-doors and then providing the service.’ But this process has been shown to not work because the homeless population has only gotten larger. Our model has shown that: put someone inside, give someone a shower, let them put their stuff down, and they’re going to be more successful in the long run than if you gave them a fresh pair of socks on the street.”

In just three years, Taking It to the Streets has worked with over five hundred homeless people and have gotten over three hundred of them permanently off the streets and into homes. Calinsky’s unorthodox decisions and persistence through the pressure of strict city regulations has rewarded him with an effective program that has proven itself to make a difference in the Haight.

“The city is very lenient because we’ve accessed a part of the population that they’ve never been able to access. They’ve never been able to do anything about Haight Street.”

 

Video by Alina Castillo

The Keys to the Depot

An old Kimball piano is nestled among the tables and chairs in The Depot at San Francisco State University. Surrounded by students who get food from restaurants in the food court, e.g. Farm Fresh Underground, or buy drinks and/or beer at the pub, occasionally one can hear its key being played by a student. The Depot is located in the Lower Conference Level of the Cesar Chavez Building. But why is this piano here? Where did it come from?

The answer is: nobody is really quite sure, but it serves a particular function to the student body.

The wood body of the piano feels like a skateboard that was waterlogged from a trip through the rain; the keys have lost their stunning pearl whiteness and sit unevenly across; the smell of dust and spilled food/drink lightly emanates from the housing and lid. The piano also plays as though its been played one too many times, the keys lag and stick after they react to touch, creating a muddy hand-feel.

The piano looks like something someone would leave on the corner for months without anyone taking it, yet it serves a purpose to the students at SFSU.

Owning a piano is a privilege that not everyone has. Providing a piano that anyone can play, if they build up the courage to fill the Lower Conference Level with the sound of their piano skills, is something that gives all students the opportunity to play and potentially learn piano, something they might not have had the chance to do before. It also gives students the chance to overcome their stage fright by playing in front of, albeit, distracted students. But the bottom line is that this hunk of wood, spring steel and ivory, is a tool that students use to learn, which seems like an obvious positive, especially for a university.

“I’m here for five days of the week,” said James Hall, an english major at SFSU.

“I never owned a piano before, but I learned how to play from a class I took last semester.”

Hall enjoys playing all genres of music in order to avoid musical weak spots, adjacent to not skipping leg day at the gym. Some of his favorites to play are “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol and “Variations Aria” composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. Hall comes from a musical family, which has given him an urge to learn the piano, and is thankful for the old Kimball in The Depot.

Students like Hall are perhaps the most obvious and most important example as to why there should be learning tools, like musical instruments, made accessible to students on campus. Without the piano in The Depot, it’s likely that Hall would never be able to fit piano practice in his daily routine. Skills like learning an instrument, require consistent practice just to maintain a certain level of expertise. Therefore, The Depot, or at least the convenience of placing a dusty piano on campus in general, has kept students’ musical ambitions alive.

SFSU is a university that teaches piano classes in their music curriculum, so why’s the only piano that students have access to an antique resting in a food court?

It’s definitely not the optimal place for a piano. Ramen, pizza, sandwiches, and beer conflict the smell of the room, resulting in a distractive practice place, while dialogue, silverware-clattering, and the beeps of the arcade downstairs suffocate the sound of the piano.

This isn’t the only piano on campus, but it’s the only one that all students have access to. There are pianos that collect dust until a performance or formal recital, like the seven-foot model C7 Yamaha, a much larger piano, which enjoys a good reputation among musicians, located in Jack Adams room. There are also pianos scattered across the Fine Arts Building, alas they are only for music majors.

While it is a nice addition to The Depot, this concept has more to add than one random, beat-up piano in a food court. This success should result in a spring board that inspires the school to offer more musical educational tools to the whole student body. A school ought to strive to educate students to goals of both quality and quantity of education; providing as many tools as possible is an efficient way to do so.

This is a contested issue because some faculty and students don’t see a reason for a renovation. The prior perspective can be summed up with the old saying “give an inch and they’ll take a mile,” but this perspective can look crude especially when considering educational tools.

While nobody seems to know exactly why that old piano is there, Margie Williams, the SFSU piano technician, has seen this type of piano before – the type of piano that’s been abandoned and uncared for. Pianos that tend to have a similar story.

“The problem with pianos in public spaces is that they become orphans because nobody is really there paying attention to them until there’s a big problem,” Williams said.

“They tend to get abused, in the form of drinks getting spilled inside, wear and tear in outsized proportion to the maintenance budget, etcetera. Technicians are generally reluctant to work on these types of pianos because it’s really discouraging. I certainly support the idea of public access to pianos, but nobody thinks about the maintenance required or tries to monitor what goes on around the piano. Eventually the pianos get so awful that nobody wants to play them.”

In all likelihood, the piano was left in The Depot because it would have been thrown out otherwise. It’s also likely that this piano will maintain resting in The Depot until it is deemed completely unplayable. This will most likely result in its destruction, but what’s unknown is whether or not its death will be accompanied by rebirth – a new, or another old and forgotten, learning tool for the students at SFSU.

Regardless, not all the students who use the piano on campus depend on it to be their one and only learning tool. Tiffany Duong, a student who has been playing piano for sixteen years, and owns a piano at home, plays Disney and musical soundtracks, like La La Land, at The Depot about once every two weeks simply for fun.

“It’s a little bit old and the keys are small and close, but it’s convenient,” Duong said.

“The piano I have at home is better a lot nicer, but I just play this one for fun because I commute far.”

While seemingly less important than being a tool to learn, having a piano next to a bar is a fun concept for a lot of students. Despite Duong having the option to practice from home on a much nicer piano, she still really enjoys playing the piano in The Depot from time-to-time.

There are even music majors who have access to the exclusive pianos who still choose to play on the piano in The Depot for similar reasons. While it is most-definitely the worst piano on campus, speaking from a technical standpoint, the students that use this piano have found value in it from its unique novelty. Adam Medina is a music major at SFSU who chooses to use the pianos located in the Fine Arts Building – music major use only – and the piano in The Depot.

 

“I use this piano, lately, every Tuesday and Thursday between classes,” says Medina.

“I’d say I mostly practice in the Fine Arts Building, but if I’m grabbing a beer or something, I’ll use this one. Nice atmosphere and it’s more social; people come to you.”

 

That’s not the only reason Medina enjoys using this piano. Despite it being undeniably a worn and overused instrument, there’s a certain warmth that doesn’t come with a brand new, expensive Yamaha.

“This piano has a honky tonk type of feel. I just feel like older pianos have more character. I mean, it’s beat-up and looks like a run-down piano in a saloon, but it sounds good, despite not being maintained.”

Kava: A Legal Drug Taking San Francisco by Storm

Featured Image by: Laila Rashada

Kava is a legal drug currently gaining popularity in San Francisco due to its sedative and relaxing qualities.

Whenever the words “drug” and “legal” are used in the same sentence, proverbial red flags are raised to the sky, all with the same question: “does it even do anything?” The short answer is yes, but the more important question to answer is: “Is kava right for me?”

Marijuana isn’t for everyone, and neither are psychedelics or dissociatives, but everyone’s reasons are different. It could be because someone doesn’t enjoy the act of smoking, they think being high is too intense, they’re scared of the effects on their health, it gives them anxiety or simply any of the other countless reasons to not partake in certain drugs. Yet, particular aspects of various drugs are appealing to people that are normally against drug use, such as euphoria and clarity. Kava is a one-ingredient plant that is advertised to have amazing health benefits.

Video by: Mike Massaro

We often lose scope of the potential healing and nourishing effects of Earth’s natural gifts. Just the mere label “drug” is enough to deter people from even considering it as a way to treat their day-to-day stress, insomnia, and ill-feelings via a boost to their immune system.

“I’ve been drinking kava for about two weeks and have noticed benefits already,” says Katherine McCarty, who is a new employee at the Kava Lounge in San Francisco.

“My awareness, innate ability to heal and sleeping patterns have all improved. The more I drink, the more I feel the effects, almost like a reverse tolerance.”

Before being appropriated in San Francisco, kava was commonly grown and used in places like Hawaii, Melanesia, and Fiji. Kava is a plant grown in the Western Pacific, but its roots are what’s harvested for its sedative effects. Natives hold ancient knowledge for the applications of kava, which include its power to mend ailments such as urogenital conditions, respiratory ailments, and skin diseases.

The roots themselves are usually prepared into kava by being chewed, ground or pounded, depending on the culture. In San Francisco, kava can be easily purchased either as a powder or as a liquid at a kava cafe. Kava has existed longer in the city as a powder, but its easy accessibility and novelty, which comes from drinking the potion from a cut-across coconut shell, has jettisoned its popularity.

“We get our roots imported from Fiji,” says Priscilla Hill, manager at the Kava Lounge. “There are two main parts to the root: the top root lowena, which feels heavy and relaxing, and the lateral root waka, which is lighter and more energetic. The only other ingredient is reverse osmosis water.”

As a rule of thumb, drug experiences are unique to the person taking them, but kava’s functions are routine, specialized, and minimal; it doesn’t leave much up to personal differences. Kava is similar to the experience of consuming cannabis, which includes being somnifacient, but absent of any effects that stem from a stereotypical high.

Kava isn’t only for stressed out insomniacs looking for a natural cure, it can also be for a group of friends with nothing to do on a Saturday night; the alternative to going to a bar or a café. In fact, many people who have adopted kava into their lifestyle have also pushed out alcohol and caffeine altogether.

Alva Caple owns the Kava Lounge, but he first owned a bar in Topeka, Kansas. He gave up serving alcohol so he could serve kava, which resulted in him opening a kava bar in Hollywood, Florida. After some years of being successful, and also some careful deliberation and planning, Caple decided that he wanted to leave Florida to start a kava bar in California. He was shocked with the amount of bars in California, or lack thereof.

“I wanted to go to California because it was a progressive state, although initially I wanted to start my bar in Berkeley,” Caple explains.

“Six or seven years ago, there weren’t very many kava bars; there were none in the city and only one in Berkeley, San Bruno, and Davis up here.”

The kava business has been going well for Caple ever since opening day and he now has plans to expand into also serving raw vegan food. Not a lot of people know about kava, despite its boasting about a positive lifestyle and health changes, which is also a reason for skepticism.

So, why would a miracle root be so unknown if it really worked? One aspect of kava that is widely agreed upon, by haters and lovers alike, is that it’s an acquired taste.

Drinking kava leaves a trail of numbness across your tongue and down your throat. Imagine what it feels like to halt blood flow to the tongue: numb yet sensitive, with a slight sting and shiver.

The flavor is also hard for some people to forgive. Essentially, there is nothing but kava root and water. Kava translates to English as literally meaning “bitter,” which, if anything, is an understatement. It’s an experience oddly nostalgic to those mud pies in elementary school. The liquid itself is clear with chunks of earth surfacing to and buoying at the rim of the cup, bowl or hollowed-out coconut shell until stirred back to the bottom to become saturated.

That being said, some people really enjoy the taste. David Soutter, a travel writer and chiropractor, actively looks for kava bars when he’s assigned articles around the world.

“I just flew into San Francisco this morning, but I wanted to come to this kava bar,” Soutter says.

“I drink it because it helps me with jet lag.”

While the kava community raves about its effects on sleep, perhaps the most common piece of kava-praise is its effects on short-term anxiety. Cannabidiol, one of the most active cannabinoids in marijuana, serves a similar function in that it is responsible for the couch-locked and calm sensation one gains from cannabis, which come with feelings of physical comfort and mental peace.

Despite all the positive effects, there are some negative ones. For example, kava dermopathy is a fully reversible skin condition that causes incredibly dry skin. This, along with other commonly accepted side effects of kava, is only contracted with excessive use.

Kava is a great way to experiment with natural remedies for conditions such as insomnia and anxiety, meaning there’s no need to place trust in a pharmaceutical company to provide non-poisonous help. It’s an easily accessible drug with ancient knowledge of curing ailments and soothing anxiety, which unsurprisingly is the reason for its mass appeal to the population of San Francisco.