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Photograph by Amara D. Angelica

Sticks and Stones: Local WiFi champion has been called a lot of names by the computer-industry establishment. And as you can see, he wears them all proudly.


Radio Geeks Gone Wild

He's been called an "anarchist criminal parasite" by Business Week for "piping into WiFi for free," but that doesn't faze Cliff Skolnick, renowned among geeks as co-founder of the free Apache Web server project. Together with the local ThirdBreak group that he founded, Skolnick wants to bring free Internet power to the people of the Republic of Santa Cruz and beyond.

"I don't mind being called an anarchist, as long as I can explain what true anarchy means," he told Nüz. "I'm not anti-business, just pro-freedom. But I don't consider myself a criminal or a parasite--that's the telecom industry today."

As it happens, Skolnick, along with local network guru Elf and tree-climbing network geek Sean Lazar, was responsible for installing WiFi access at the 20 or so coffee shops around Santa Cruz County where you can caffeinate and get free WiFi Internet access with your laptop. (OK, so you need a WiFi, or "802.11," card, which costs $20-$60.)

As Elf explains, most coffee-shop owners find that offering WiFi access boosts their business, unless they are Starbucks or Borders, apparently, since both require T-Mobile accounts for customers wanting WiFi access--a requirement that will set you back a whooping $29.95 per month.

Meanwhile, Skolnick wants to go way beyond free local WiFi.

"ThirdBreak is about the people taking back control of their information infrastructure," he says. "Mergers are making the network owners [think AOL/Time Warner] information owners, and it's a small step to where network providers start using their networks to control access. Information is the currency of democracy, as Thomas Jefferson said."

So far, ThirdBreak has already installed its first democratizing broadband WiFi community-access zone near Lulu Carpenter's, Jamba Juice and Asian Rose on Pacific Avenue. (Internet access is provided free by Flatiron building denizen Validus Medical Systems, which is developing a system for doctors to use wireless networking and handheld PCs for patient data.) And there is also an access zone for geek insiders at the Big Yellow House.

Apparently, ThirdBreak has convinced Mayor Scott Kennedy that it would be a good idea to install a WiFi access zone at City Hall for visitors to the local parks this summer.

"Sitting in the sun and connecting to the web is a terrific idea," Kennedy told Nüz. No, anarchists, you can't tap into the city's payroll and supplement your income, but you can surf for snappy comebacks during a City Council meeting or go anywhere else on the public Internet.

For those paranoid about electro-magnetic radiation, Skolnick points out that "access point" boxes are located high up and are usually about 1/10 as powerful as a cell phone--plus they're not right next to your temporal brain lobes.

Hoping to create wireless access zones throughout the area bounded by Water, Front, Laurel and Center streets and the east side, then expand to the mountains, where many redwoods recluses still suffer in turtle-speed dial-up modem hell without DSL access, then tie these community networks together with their counterparts in the Bay Area and beyond, Skolnick and the legendary Tim Pozer (who has spark-plugged free WiFi access for San Francisco) met with amateur radio operators ("hams") at the San Lorenzo Valley Amateur Radio Club in Felton (which was especially interested in portable access to email and the web in emergencies, according to Ray Rischpater, the valley's amateur radio Emergency Coordinator).

To find out how to tap into WiFi, visit www.thirdbreak.org or www.freenetworks.org, "where you can also learn how to set up your own WiFi access point" with a Pringles potato chip can as an antenna.

Film Shorts

"I was part of the Ant Farm collective 30 years ago," says Chip Lord, who is currently the chair of UCSC's Film and Digital Media department. "It was fun to do, but at the same time, embedded in it, was a serious expression of cultural reflection," says Lord of being a founding member of the San Francisco-based collective that explored the fringe of architecture, design and media arts between 1968 and 1978.

"We were channeling our '50s childhood, growing up in an affluent period in which the Cadillac was 'the standard of the world,' as their advertising motto proclaimed. And then we lived through the '60s and finding ways to avoid the draft and protest Vietnam. And then came the environmental movement. We lived through two very contradictory decades," says Lord, who will walk Santa Cruz Film Festival audiences through the Ant Farm DVD, 7:15pm, May 14, at the Del Mar.

Other highlights of the fest include Oil on Ice, Vote for Me, Proteus, The Illuminated Chakras and In the Company of Women, all of which may inspire you to attend the festival's panel on financing/distribution of independent films, with David Lebrun, who directed, wrote and edited Proteus; filmmaker George Levenson; SCFF board members Cheri Lovedog and Eric Thiermann; and In the Company of Women's Lisa Ades. The panel is free for pass holders, $15 otherwise, 2-5pm, May 16, Actors' Theatre, 1001 Center St, Santa Cruz.

Freedom Petition

Bookshop Santa Cruz has collected almost 2,000 signatures urging Congress to restore the safeguards for reader privacy that were eliminated by the USA-PATRIOT Act, making it one of the leading signature collectors of a nationwide campaign in support of the Freedom to Read Protection Act (HR 1157) and the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act (S 1709).

"We're deeply concerned about the chilling effect of the Patriot Act provision that allows the FBI to obtain the records of any of our customers," said BSC vice president Ryan Coonerty. To find out more, call 831.423.0900.

Mission Accomplished

Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba's U.S. Army report on Iraqi torture is one helluva sobering read. And having taken the time to actually read the 40-or-so-page report--unlike Donald Rumsfeld, who didn't even browse the surprisingly short report, despite the fact that it had both "U.S. Army" and "Abuse" in the title--Nüz can tell you that there's still a whole lot of terrible nastiness that the administration has still managed to keep a lid on. Nor, as of presstime, is anyone talking much about the claim that two U.S. civilians employed by CACI International and Titan Corporation were involved in the abuse. You can read the report yourself at www.thememoryhole.org before deciding how long a stretch Rummy should do at Abu Ghraib.

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the May 12-19, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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