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Rainbow Unit: Networks Big and Small

3B: A Person-Centered Network Information System Adventure

Technical Overview

My philosophy is very simple: When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to stand up, you have to say something, you have to do something.

My mother told me over and over again when I went off to school not to get into trouble but I told her that I got into a good trouble, necessary trouble. Even today I tell people, “We need to get in good trouble.”

John Lewis, interviewed by Valerie Jackson for StoryCorps[1]

We began this session considering the codifications of the digital divide and beginning a process of decodification of this and related terms. We explored some examples specifically related to NDIA’s first element of digital inclusion, “affordable, robust broadband internet service.” Digital inclusion, equity, and literacy as brought forward by NDIA, ALA, and others give a more formal definition that can serve as a framework to move from the magical thinking that is pervasive within current neoliberal understandings of sociotechnical networked information systems. But this is an ongoing work of community inquiry and action-reflection.

As we move forward in our professional practices, we each will likely make use of a range of sociotechnical digital tools within our daily activities, which, together in work with others, include works towards advancing digital inclusion and equity goals. But in practice, information science professionals have encountered limits and constraints to the social justice parameters given their permitted roles, given certain socially structured fabric and certain community values that are placed above others, particularly in light of dependencies on public funding that gives greater power to the middle class white population.[2]

As an introductory text, A Person-Centered Guide to Demystifying Technology has worked to open up the closed box of digital technologies sufficiently so that we can explore ways we innovate-in-use our everyday technologies so that our choice, [re]design, and use of digital technologies better serve the diverse community knowledge and cultural wealth within the fabric of communities. It is an introductory text seeking to help us see better those aspects of digital technology that are “not right, not fair, not just,” to quote John Lewis.

As an introductory text, considerable time has been spent in the first three stages of Carol Kuhlthau’s information search process that brings together the evolution of feelings, thoughts, and actions commonly experienced by those seeking information as a person passes through the six stages of the search process, which include:

  1. Task initiation is most often associated with feelings of uncertainty.
  2. Topic selection, on the other hand, leads towards increased optimism.
  3. Prefocus exploration leads back to feelings of confusion, frustration, and doubt. Combined, these first three stages are more closely aligned with ambiguous thoughts and general actions seeking relevant information.
  4. Focus formulation begins to bring about greater clarity and increased interest.
  5. Information collection deepens a sense of direction and confidence, with more specificity of thought, and actions seeking more pertinent information.
  6. Presentation leads to feelings of satisfaction or disappointment through actions of documenting.

As we come to the end of this textbook, it’s time for each learner to especially advance Kuhlthau’s stages 4) focus formulation and 5) information collection. To do so, first consider what technical and information search skills still need some introductory development in recognition that both personally and professionally, “you have to say something, you have to do something” to move beyond the many historic and ongoing divides fostering existing injustices and the digitization of information systems that are birthing new injustices in many areas of society locally, regionally, and beyond. This digitization of the divides continues even as we remain caught in that inescapable network of mutuality and are thus being affected whether it be directly or indirectly, as Martin Luther King, Jr. notes.[3]

With this in mind, each reader is called to choose your own adventure to bring these explorations together into an early prototype launchpad of a person-centered networked information system specific to an area in which you sense you need to say and do something. What skills do you think you should especially focus on fine-tuning further to help you leave this space better prepared to “get in good trouble”?

Here’s some initial possibilities, although you are welcome to remix these or add to them.

A WordPress-Based Public Information System

In the last two sessions, we’ve used a few technical exercises to explore different ways we could create a Raspberry Pi HTTP server. While at first we used Python3 BaseHTTPRequestHandler to provide special purpose HTML page data and information, we ended by adding the general purpose Apache HTTP server and PHP preprocessor to create a broader range of HTML pages that could be accessible upon request by an HTTP client.

This textbook is provided through the Illinois Open Publishing Network (IOPN). To create this IOPN textbook, the open source content management system (CMS) PressBooks was chosen as it provides administrative and reader interfaces specifically for published online books while also including print-ready PDF, mobi, ePub, and other open formats. Underneath the hood, PressBooks is based on the free and open-source CMS WordPress. WordPress is written in PHP and is paired with MySQL or MariaDB database, and is used by many popular websites around the world as their base.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation includes instructions for a project to Build a LAMP Web Server with WordPress. Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Perl/Python (LAMP), a term that became popular in the late 1990s, represents a bringing together of these sociotechnical systems to create a flexible web stack, a collection of software applications to perform specific tasks, in this case specific to web development. WordPress is a commonly used extension to the widely used base LAMP stack.

The toolkit for this textbook includes the Raspberry Pi microcomputer and the New Out Of the Box System, which by default is set up with the Raspberry Pi Linux Operating System. Linux, check.

In session two of the Rainbow Unit, we concluded by installing the Apache web server and PHP preprocessor. Check and check.

What remains is the installation of the MySQL database and WordPress CMS, items covered within the Raspberry Pi foundation project instructions, starting with step 4. From here, you can further innovate-in-use and remix previous IoT and Internet-based Rainbow Unit exercises, exercises from earlier in the book, or go a new direction completely.

What’s next?

For those who choose this adventure, how might you now use this LAMP and WordPress server to prototype a way you could “say something, do something” to “get in good trouble”?

MAZI Zone DIY Community Network

MAZI means “together” in Greek. The MAZI project is part of the Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovation initiative, promoted by the European Comission, and funded through the European Union’s H2020 framework. Their goal is “to provide technology and knowledge in order to:

  • empower those who are in physical proximity, to shape their hybrid urban space, together, according to the local environment and context.
  • generate location-based collective awareness as a basis for fostering social cohesion, conviviality, participation in decision-making processes, self-organisation, knowledge sharing, and sustainable living
  • facilitate interdisciplinary interactions around the design of hybrid space and the role of ICTs in society.”[4]

According to MAZI, do-it-yourself (DIY) networking using such toolkits “can serve two complementary objectives:

  1. to improve Internet connectivity in a certain region or local area
  2. to support local interactions and services.”[5]

The MAZI Toolkit

The MAZI Toolkit is made up of three elements. All of these are available from the MAZI Toolkit page on this website.

  1. Low cost hardware: Currently the Toolkit is using the Raspberry Pi system. Designs for making your own hardware casings will be available soon.
  2. Software and applications: These are specifically developed by the MAZI Project, including a set of local web applications ready to be installed on the captive portal. The functionality will range from very simple communication services, like chatting, forums, wikis, and polls to more sophisticated collaborative applications for social networking, deliberations, community organizing, project development, etc.
  3. Guidelines and knowledge, including examples and inspirations: Installation scripts and step-by-step guides are part of the toolkit, enabling you to build and deploy your own network zone, to configure a user-facing captive portal, and to select and customize software applications.

In addition, you can directly access the Toolkit guidelines on GitHub, which includes up-to-date documentation.

For this adventure, consider flashing a second 16GB MicroSD card with a ready-made MAZI toolkit image that includes the Raspberry Pi Operating System and the rest of the LAMP + WordPress stack, along with a number of other software applications that can be used by choice as part of your own MAZI Zone. This MAZI Zone can be used offline on its own, as part of a LAN or CAN intranet, or online with the Internet. You can use it exclusively as a web-based ICT, or you could also include Python-based IoT communications, integrating and innovating-in-use into your MAZI Zone exercises from session one of the Rainbow Unit. The MAZI website lists several test examples, but consider other ways this might be used as part of an Urban or Rural Community Network, or perhaps even in support of digital agriculture on that five acre farm seeking sustainable agriculture pathways.

What’s next?

For those who choose this adventure, how might you now use your MAZI Zone to prototype a way you could “say something, do something” to “get in good trouble”?

From an HTTP Thing to Multiple Internet of Things Devices

Through the exercises of sessions one and two in the Rainbow Unit, we’ve explored a few different ways we could bring together the Orange Unit electronics and the Blue Unit code with the Rainbow Unit internetworking to build a basic Internet thing. How might you now start combining multiple basic Internet things together to create a plural Internet of Things? This adventure could be done using the Python3 and/or Apache HTTP server setup already in place, done in combination with one of the above “choose your adventure” possibilities above to provide a richer web interface, or using the Adafruit IO.

The Adafruit Learning site also has instructions on how you can take a newly emerging pathway to set up your Raspberry Pi as a Home Assistant. Unlike IFTTT or Samsung Smart Things, your data can remain local, not needing to tie in with the Internet, or can be used in combination with the secured Adafruit IO to add in remote access.

And for those comfortable in CircuitPython who want to test out an open-source web application that includes data cleaning and transformation, numerical simulation, statistical modeling, data visualization, and machine learning, still another adventure could include CircuitPython with Jupyter Notebooks as a first exploration of how machine learning and weak artificial intelligence could be brought into these works.

What’s next?

For those who choose this adventure, how might you now use your Internet of Things to prototype a way you could “say something, do something” to “get in good trouble”?

Wrap Up

It is highly recommended that even though many readers may not be part of a current community inquiry project or program, you still hopefully have a means to enter into a community of practice to collaboratively work on this adventure. Perhaps this community of practice brings in some clear consensus on a single small project, or on a larger overarching project in which several different adventures could serve as a means to address the larger project goals. But core is to advance your sociotechnical skills through this final adventure in a way that prepares you for a deeper, participatory action research community inquiry adventure in community, with community, for community personally and professionally throughout your lifetime.

Whatever the specific adventure, also be sure to consider regularly how many of the technical instructions leave unconsidered the embedded social dimensions of technologies that are continuously in tension with the limits and constraints to social justice parameters. Unconsidered, we likely further algorithms of oppression in our personal and professional practices. If you currently do not have rich diversity within your community of practice, work to outline clearly how diversity would be brought into the collective leadership to assure this is the “good trouble” to which the late John Lewis refers.

Comprehension Check

Given you are now choosing your own adventure based on your own considerations of the technical and information search skills still need some introductory development, it’s time for you to also create your own comprehension check. In choosing your adventure, you’ll be working towards a clearer focus formulation. The sociotechnical adventure you choose also serves to advance information collection to deepen your sense of direction and confidence moving forward in the profession.

Take a few minutes now to create your own comprehension check that you can use in the coming days and weeks to affirm you are effectively meeting your learning objectives so that you can say something and do something moving forward personally and professionally so as to get in good trouble in support of personal and community social justice goals. Keep these on your desk or wall to glance at regularly as you work towards completion of the textbook activities, using these to help you keep interest and specificity of thought and actions in this last stretch.

  1. John Lewis and Valerie Jackson, “The Boy From Troy: How Dr. King Inspired A Young John Lewis,” StoryCorps, February 20, 2018.
  2. Bharat Mehra, Kevin S. Rioux, and Kendra S. Albright, “Social Justice in Library and Information Science,” in Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences (CRC Press, 2009), 4820-4836.
  3. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Birmingham, AL, April 16, 1963.
  4. “Overview,” MAZI, accessed July 20, 2020,
  5. “Toolkit,” MAZI, accessed July 20, 2020,


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A Person-Centered Guide to Demystifying Technology Copyright © 2020 by Copyright © 2020 Martin Wolske. Copyright “Ideating and Iterating Code: Scratch Example” © 2020 Betty Bayer and Stephanie Shallcross. Copyright “Introducing the Unix Command Line” © 2020 Martin Wolske, Dinesh Rathi, Henry Grob, and Vandana Singh. Copyright “Security and Privacy” © 2020 Sara Rasmussen. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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