It was a highly frustrating party because (a) there were many fascinating guests and (b) the music was so loud it was hard to talk to them. Every conversation was at least a little difficult. Still, I learned a few interesting things:
1. Around 5 p.m. that day, as a BART train pulled into the 16th Street stop, the driver announced, “16th Street, EFF.”
2. Every EFF employee was required to wear a name tag that said “Hello, my name is” along with their name. Underneath the name box it said “Don’t ask me about XXX” where XXX was about 30 or 40 possibilities, including “drugs”, “P2P”, and “Open Government”. This was so amusing it would have been nice if the room had been a little bit brighter so I could have read more of them. The “Open Government” one was worn by a woman named Marcia, who was responsible for the FOIA request that caused Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign. “The straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Marcia. In a little speech by one of EFF’s leaders, this was mentioned as one of the year’s two biggest accomplishments. The other was the success so far of their lawsuit against AT&T for allowing the government to tap everyone’s phone without a warrant.
3. Marcia was impressed that I knew Aaron Swartz. She didn’t know him personally but she admired the breadth of his activities. “Like what?” I asked. “The 12-part novel he’s writing,” she said. This was a surprising answer. “You read his blog?” I asked. “No, I just heard about it,” she said.
4. Graffitti Research Lab exists.
5. I met a guy named Jason who had recently graduated from the University of Rochester and is now working at a small (12-person) start-up in San Francisco. He had wandered over to the EFF party from another get-together. We talked about working conditions. Most people don’t like their jobs, I said. That was a strange concept to him, he said, since he had enjoyed the two jobs he had. “It’s a job, you’re not supposed to like it, my friends tell me,” he said.
6. When I was a grad student, I studied how rats measure time on the order of minutes and seconds. (They have a clock that resembles a stopwatch, I found.) Surely humans have a similar clock, but why? One use of such a clock, I realized, is to measure how long it’s been since the last good conversation. When that time gets large enough, you leave the party.