# (1) 25 Feb 2015, 10:25PM: Deleted Scenes:
A few deleted sentences from a piece I'm drafting:
One way to understand suspense is that it's the state of having multiple conflicting valid causal models, or not having enough information to even form a single satisfying prediction.
Each protagonist gets impressive moments of awesome competence and agency. But, like levelling up in a game, it's still constrained by the sandbox (which is of course more realistic than the Matrix solution).
The big science fictional twist is that you are far less significant than you had imagined.
But they require less genre expertise than, say, "Four Kinds of Cargo" or the trope review at the start of Anathem.
# (1) 24 Feb 2015, 10:37AM: Revisiting "Dave Barry In Cyberspace" (1996):
I have been rereading Dave Barry's Dave Barry In Cyberspace (published in 1996), which has held up about as well as Neal Stephenson's In The Beginning Was The Command Line (1999).
On the software you'll need for your personal computer:
First off, you need an operating system, which is the "Godfather" program that operates behind the scenes, telling all the other programs what to do, making sure they cooperate, and if necessary leaving the heads of horses in their beds. The most popular operating system in world history as of 10:30 A.M. today is Windows 95☺, but there are many other options, including Windows 3.1☺, Windows 3.11☺, Windows 3.111☺, Windows for Workgroups☺, Windows for Groups That Mainly Just Screw Around☺, Windows for Repeat Offenders☺, Lo-Fat Windows☺, and The Artist Formerly Known as Windows☺. There is also the old "MS-DOS" operating system, which is actually written on parchment and is rarely used on computers manufactured after the French and Indian War. And there is "OS/2," which was developed at enormous expense by IBM and marketed as a Windows alternative, and which has won a loyal following of thousands of people, an estimated three of whom do not work for IBM. And of course there is the Apple operating system, or "Apple operating system," for your hippie beatnik weirdo loner narcotics-ingesting communistic types of Apple-owning individuals who are frankly too wussy to handle the challenge of hand-to-hand combat with computer systems specifically designed to thwart them.
On the internet:
... I had managed to send this hideously embarrassing message to everybody in the world except the person who was supposed to read it.
Yes, thanks to the awesome communications capabilities of the Internet, I was able to make an intergalactic fool of myself, and there's no reason why you can't do the same.
Prefiguring Clay Shirky's cognitive surplus arguments:
So go ahead! Get on the Web! In my opinion, it's WAY more fun than television, and what harm can it do?
The origin of Bill Gates's wealth: "versions."
OK, it can kill brain cells by the billions. But you don't need brain cells. You have a computer.
How much should your new computer cost? "About $350 less than you will actually pay."
Also, I am gonna avoid G7e rage and not quote the entire section, but check out the Comdex chapter for Barry's thoughts on the limited range of stories and game mechanics available in games written by and for men in 1996, and his speculation on what more diversity would look like.
The fiction short story that appears in two parts at the end of the book causes disproportionate feels in me, because it's about falling in love with a stranger via America OnLine chat, and I read it around the same time I fell in love with a guy I met on Usenet, via a Dave Barry fan group. Oh dear I just looked him up and he has a freaking beard. I don't know why that detail gets to me, but I was not prepared for that. At this moment I am under a blanket on my couch in New York City with midmorning light bouncing off brick and fire escapes outside, but I am also in hand-me-down tee shirt and shorts in front of a 486, easily remembering how to turn the audible modem volume all the way down so Mom and Dad don't hear me dialing in, the mousepad the only clear area on my dad's desk that's cluttered with printouts and Post-Its and boxes of 5-and-a-quarter floppies, navigating to HoTMaiL, California night outside the blinds. And now I'm remembering all those other local maxima and minima of my teenage life, and how intense things felt. He sent me a photo and I printed it out in black and white and took it into my AP US History test. That printout is probably still in a box somewhere. He dumped me, and we never met, and I wonder whether either of us still has a copy of that email.
And now the only Dave Barry book I own is Dave Barry in Cyberspace. It's still funny and it still has a barb in it. I am genuinely curious whether people ten years younger than me would enjoy it, since clearly part of what I'm getting out of it is nostalgia. And now I'm thinking about setting a reminder to myself to read current tech humor by Rose Ames and James Mickens in 2035.
: Reading Comedy
# (0) 21 Feb 2015, 12:37PM: New Loves And New Joys:
Over the last several years I've started getting into hobbies, skills, or activities that I had assumed I would not like or wouldn't get, or that I had dismissed due to initial impressions, such as romance novels, functional programming, watching sports on television, sewing, hiking, pop music, makeup, clothing, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and console-type video games. I've also deepened my general cinephilia and started regularly attending a guided mindfulness meditation group. Many of these communities or artifacts are pretty bad at some things I care about, but they are also pretty good at other things that my pre-existing milieu* doesn't excel at, and thus provide me with a richer variety of kinds of experiences. I want to look at what those things are; this is an incomplete start.
Certainly I can more easily achieve rapport with a wider variety of people if I can make conversation about, for instance, good NYC-area hikes you can get to without a car. And on my English Coast-to-Coast walks, I consistently found other hikers were sociable and supportive and friendly, taking time out of their rambles to help me and my companions wayfind, learn to use our tools, and swap stories.
In pop music, romance, makeup, clothing, sewing, hiking, film and Marvel fandom, I find a willingness to emphasize the sensual and the aesthetic experience. And we can talk about being overwhelmed emotionally by experience, which is also something appealing about sports fandom, that if we talk about our stomachs lurching with fear or happiness, or we ALLCAPS about how yes, breakups are super emotional so songs about them might be too, other people allcaps with us. We unapologetically get at the numinous. No one needs to write essays reminding us that people who read romance novels have emotions and that it's undesirable and impossible to eradicate those emotions.
In functional programming, film, clothing, and music, I've found new abstractions, new perspectives on things that already exist, that make me clutch my head as my brain changes configuration. I do already get that sometimes from my pre-existing milieu, but diversity of perspectives means I get it more if I am in more and more different kinds of communities.
And most of the communities I'm getting into have more gender diversity and far greater ethnic diversity than most of the communities I was previously paying attention to. (Please do pay attention to my disclaimers there instead of going #notallfans or similar.) I see and interact with people of more widely varying demographics, and I see the work of diverse people praised and discussed. And this is clearly something I need to improve in my life, because, for example, here I am in a world where Beyoncé Knowles is a global superstar, a critically important black artist and one of the most prominent feminists in the world, and I have barely been hearing or hearing about her work. I heard about a French gender-switch satirical film (Majorité Opprimée) just after it came out, but it's taken me six years to hear about Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy" (via Arthur Chu's piece on white mediocrity and black excellence). I hear about all that Dove beauty stuff all the time, but only today did I watch Beyoncé's "Pretty Hurts" video. Clearly I need to up my game.
I've added a couple of photos in this post, pictures of some bits of papercraft I made. In December, I raised some money for Wikimedia by wrapping gifts at Astoria Bookshop; gift-wrapping was free, but if customers wanted to give a tip, the volunteer doing gift-wrapping could choose a charity where that tip went. During the slow periods, I cut up the leftover scraps of wrapping paper to make little decorative snowflakes and whatnot, and then I tied them to the ribbons when I finished wrapping up a book. They were pretty, and they didn't scale, and I tried out lots of different variations, and I gave them away, and I liked it. Maybe one more thing I see more in my new communities than in my old ones is the idea that it's okay to enjoy an experience without really understanding it. I'm gonna try that.
* One tip that fundraising consultants give you is that you should think of your communities, past and present, so you can further list people you know through those communities whom you could ask to give money to your cause. I started a list for that exercise, and now see that since about 2002 my communities have included: my blood family, Leonard's family, Wikimedia, Open Source Bridge/Stumptown Syndicate, the MS in Tech Management cohort from Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley, GNOME, Maemo/MeeGo, AltLaw, the Participatory Culture Foundation, Hacker School, New York City tech in general, Geek Feminism, the Ada Initiative/AdaCamp, WisCon, Foolscap, Making Light, MetaFilter, ImpactHub NYC, the Acetarium, OpenHatch, Growstuff, Collabora, Fog Creek Software, Behavior, Salon.com, Cody's Books, Yuletide Treasure, the Coast-to-Coast walk, Strange Horizons, Slightly Known People fandom, Breaking Bad fandom, Mike Daisey fandom, Star Trek fandom, The Colbert Report fandom, Midtown Comics, the Outer Alliance, Python, Software Carpentry, Mozilla, MetaFilter, LWN, Crooked Timber, Systers, OpenITP/TechnoActivism Third Monday, my Twitter followees/followers, my Identi.ca circle, REI, Dreamwidth, code4lib and #libtechwomen/#libtechgender, Hackers on Planet Earth, the Professional IT Community Conference/LOPSA, Women in Free Software India, the New York Tech Meetup, Subdrift NYC, a few now-defunct private email lists, Google Summer of Code, Outreachy, Foo Campers, Empowermentors, the Unitarian Universalist church, Debian-NYC, Metrics-grimoire, Mailman, NYC storyreading, the Museum of the Moving Image, my local meditation class, and probably more stuff. That wasn't in any real order, in case you couldn't tell, and I claim zero consistency in my participation level. Patterns include: lots of geekiness and lots of online interaction.
# 14 Feb 2015, 07:47PM: Internet Things I Am Appreciating:
Here are a bunch of interesting links.
My pal Brendan wrote an appreciation of my old MC Masala newspaper column and I am totally still basking in it. Yes Brendan you totally were and are the Kentuckian I know best! Also this satirical pastiche about moving from San Francisco to New York City still makes me laugh.
A hypothesis on why so many scifi fans/authors are libertarians. This reminds me that I should read Paulina Borsook's 2000 book Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech.
Related: Kate Losse on Silicon Valley and cults -- incisive, on the other side of the "identity management method" (Joel Spolsky, 2006).
The sign of successful recruiting becomes finding people who feel so matched to the startup's culture that they will happily allow their identities to be subsumed it, to the point of happily wearing the startup's uniform of branded t-shirts and other swag. 'The startup uniform encapsulates a simple but essential principle: Everyone at your company should be different in the same way--a tribe of like-minded people fiercely devoted to the company's mission.' In Thiel's vision, then, the best kind of 'different' is difference that scales--individuality is just a property of people who haven’t found the right startup to work at yet (or alternately, who have not been found by the right startup).
Christina Xu on Blowhard Syndrome which I have absolutely seen.
The constant bagging on Chetan Bhagat in this post makes me laugh pretty hard.
From Rivka in 2003: "I have a Thing about shoes." I particularly find helpful the comment that starts: "I think that everybody has the thing that reminds them of all the issues that they thought they'd completely gotten over in their life, and the thing is often some small, seemingly trivial detail." I'm currently reading a bunch of Courtney Milan novels and she basically always hits this note, by the way.
I appreciate this "TMI" self-description by blogger Aiffe, particularly the paragraph in which they discuss their non-binary gender identity. I particularly recommend it to other cis people like me to see an example of how someone feels different about being included in "women" as opposed to being referred to as "a woman."
Sabrina wrote me a list of book recommendations; if you believe you often like books I like, you should check out her post!
A short parable on art and imperfection.
I found that the bit about personal integrity and promises in this post about procrastination spoke to me.
Leonard and I have been watching a lot of Batman: The Animated Series, and I liked this piece on "Beware the Gray Ghost". Also check out this fun, thought-provoking post on queerness in Batman, especially in the 1960s live-action series.
I found the last two paragraphs of this Belle Waring piece particularly thought-provoking. I genuinely do want nuance in social justice discussions and I care about building bridges with people who don't yet agree with me on every particular and who don't yet know bits of etiquette and jargon that I know. I also don't want for strangers to perceive that good faith as a boundless well of sweetness, time and energy to which they are entitled. Not every conversation is a Dialogue And Deliberation process. It's a tough balance and no one has it down, in my opinion. I'm curious about Aspiration's work on social scripts and whether it'll provide some improved approaches to thinking about this. I'm also rereading Aria Stewart's "Creating just online social spaces" (the "that #couldhavegonebetter" re-routing tactic looks like a good script that I may copy).
Related: "white supremacy culture" by Tema Okun. "This is a list of characteristics of white supremacy culture that show up in our organizations." I'm finding a lot to think about in this.
Mel Chua writes a sarcastic poem: "How to succeed in engineering as a disabled person".
Martin Fowler writes, "In recent years we've made increasing our [gender] diversity a high priority at ThoughtWorks." He's heard arguments against some diversity initiatives, e.g., if everyone followed suit, the industry would run out of qualified women to hire. He responds: "We'll know this is something to be worried about when women are paid significantly more than men for the same work."
I have been chewing on a bunch of other posts:
abi's thoughts on intellectual provincialism and the profile of assertions in conversations where people learn things, Ned Batchelder's "Engineers are people", sky croeser's "Our collaborative feminist organisations should be critical of capitalism or they will probably be bullshit", Aphyr's "this guide is for you" (via Dan Abramov), and Ben Rosenbaum on numinous magic and playfulness and on compassion, love, and demanding hard things.
# 13 Feb 2015, 07:23AM: But He Doesn't Know (That The Map Is Not) The Territory!:
OK, so, Leonard and I were talking about The Music Man -- I grandly pronounced "it's about delusion, as every musical should be" -- and I asked for his take on one salesman's outraged wail, at the end of the opening number, "But he doesn't know the territory!" (Leonard, at a young age, memorized that particular choral spoken-word piece, "Rock Island," and can still recite great chunks of it.)
Leonard said: the other salesman has learned how to sell his goods via a system, and cannot stand that Hill does not follow that system. In order to serve a legitimate market that already exists, you have to know facts; the reality-based community assumes you have to be able to, say, assess how many buttonhooks the region will need. Hill, on the other hand, is creating a need.
While the soundtrack to The Music Man provides a listener with tremendous lyrical density (thus it's on heavy rotation for me when my favorite podcasts haven't updated), the songs do not actually cover the whole of the plot. Leonard reminded me that Hill swindles the townsfolk not by taking fraudulent orders for instruments and uniforms without delivering, but by promising that his amazing system can teach your kids to play music (spoiler: it can't).
Which caused me to realize that we are due for a Music Man parody in which "Professor" Hill brings a code school to town. "And instead of the romance with Marian, there's some other obstacle that keeps Hill in town, like, they genuinely start to care about local social justice issues," I mused.
"I can always tell when a plot becomes a Sumana Special Edition," Leonard said aloud.
# 04 Feb 2015, 05:15PM: Zines, Twister, & Distinctions:
Zines: If you liked my zine about the animals who own bookstores and help each other out, I predict you will also like "Quill & Scroll", a zine that Brendan Adkins and I made together late last year. It focuses on a hedgehog who runs an all-night bookstore, and is a tribute to the Astoria Bookshop. I loved making it with Brendan; I encourage you to download and print it.
You may also be interested in Julia Evans's upcoming zine on strace.
Twister: This year's Festivids include two vids focusing on the 1996 movie Twister. I saw Twister on a date, as can now be told -- it was a date that I was keeping secret from my parents, with the guy who provided my first ever kiss. (I am tempted to go back and watch, now, movies that I originally saw on those handful of teenage dates, which would include Twister and Six Days, Seven Nights.) (And now I am trying to remember who in the world would have gone with me to Wag the Dog, Bulworth, and/or Primary Colors, or whether I saw them myself. Titanic I saw with Angel and my mom. I know I saw Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet by myself. I'm remembering seeing Air Force One in the theater with my parents and sister, and I'm trying to remember whether that's the last movie we all saw together in the theater, or whether my sister joined us for Life Is Beautiful in 1997.)
Anyway! Twister. I mainly remember two things about Twister. One is noticing that the opening title used the same typeface as Friends did. And the second is that for a few seconds, somewhere in the middle of the movie, a woman runs into the storm-chasers' workroom and yells something, and I sat astonished because she looked like me. I caught a glimpse of an Indian-American woman with short hair and a weird face and big eyeglasses, someone I had never seen before on the big or the small screen. I've looked at the cast and I can't find her. I wonder what I saw.
Polite, nice, kind, and good: wired discusses the distinctions, and metaphortunate discusses the role of practice. Recently Crystal Beasley said, "At the beginning of 2014 I resolved not to be nice. Helpful, loving, kind -- yes, but not nice for nice's sake." I realize now that "nice" goes into the bucket with "smart", "real", "normal", and a few other words I'm avoiding when talking with other people, because of all the assumptions they subsume. (My pal Sarah is doing similarly with "authentic.")
# 01 Feb 2015, 06:28PM: Obedience, Akrasia, Hypocrisy, Resistance:
So, let's say you have some dominant ethical norm, or law. For instance: copyright law, as it currently exists in the US and Europe.
Some people demonstrate obedience. They mean to follow this rule, and they do. This takes some diligence. Sometimes they find loopholes or hacks (such as the GNU Public License), but they obey.
Some people demonstrate akrasia. They mean to follow the rule, as they understand it, but they don't exercise enough diligence to obey well. I think a lot of folk copyright practice has an element of akrasia to it (people think it would be good to go through The Proper Channels but that feels too hard).
Some people demonstrate hypocrisy. They still think that, in general, people ought to follow that rule, but they've decided that they won't. Sony, a vocal anti-piracy company, allegedly infringed on copyright in software they shipped; this would be hypocrisy.
Some people demonstrate resistance. They articulate and obey an alternative ethical system, contradicting the dominant community norm. The Pirate Party and copyright abolitionists come to mind. Sometimes resisters don't find it safe to challenge these norms publicly or under their own names; perhaps you privately think copyright is bullshit and we should abolish the current system, and you refuse to feel guilty about infringing, but you don't dare say so publicly, and you hope you'll never be put into a situation where you're asked to participate in punishing someone else for infringing.
I know I haven't covered everything; as the saying goes, all models are wrong and some are useful. But if I notice someone breaking a rule, it's sometimes useful to me to understand whether they are experiencing akrasia, hypocrisy, or resistance. And I ought to remember that, from the outside, obedience and hypocrisy look the same.