Cogito, Ergo Sumana
Sumana oscillates between focus and opportunity

: As The Saying Goes, I'm Part Of The Precipitate: Tonight, I'm gonna attend my local Community Board meeting, which will include an MTA presentation on the Astoria Boulevard ADA & Station Renewal project. (I hope that, after the meeting, I can hang out with other locals and toast to the end of the Amazon HQ2 giveaway.) I wondered aloud to Leonard: how will people at the meeting use the Astoria Boulevard station closure as a demand for more parking spots? (The members of my local community board mostly own homes and cars, and are far more interested in the alleged lack of parking in Western Queens than I am.)

The easy answer is: the MTA is closing a station for renovations, so more people will have to drive, so they'll say we'll need more parking spots. But: who should be responsible for providing that parking, and how? Some satirical answers we came up with:

  • The MTA, by magically creating more parking on Astoria Boulevard
  • Auto manufacturers -- after all, didn't they cause the problem in the first place?
  • The MTA, by letting car owners hitch their cars to the end of subway trains
  • Wesley Crusher, who does not need parking himself and should use his Traveller powers to transport people and cars around
  • The city, which should allow buildings to zone far higher into their airspace and build parking garages into the troposphere
  • The city, which should adopt a form of "congestion pricing" where if you are congested you need to pay extra to enter Manhattan -- this would also have a side benefit of reducing infectious disease. If you already live in Manhattan? You can't leave your home -- the "achoo curfew".

I do not recommend anyone do any of these things. I do recommend you joke about parking-hungry community boards.

Also if you can figure out how to make a good joke combining the Lisp function cdr and the fact that we should lengthen the G train, do make it somewhere and let me know.

Filed under:


: My Open Data Quest, Part ... 11?:

pen and ink sketches of decorative moldings in NYC Council chamberOn Tuesday night, I attended a committee meeting of the NYC council's Committee on Technology at City Hall (another view) and gave a bit of public comment (video -- my testimony is 02:05:03 till 2:09:11, then there's some back and forth between me & other folks 2:14:22-2:17:12).

Background:

Back in 2017 I was following the "algorithmic transparency" conversation in NYC and even ended up speaking before this same committee.

A friend and I thought that Tuesday's meeting would be about the Automated Decisionmaking Systems Task Force that resulted from those 2017 discussions, but turned out to be less about that and more about the Commission on Public Information and Communication and oversight of open data-y things in general.

Sumana Harihareswara speaking into a microphone at Technology Committee meeting on 12 Feb 2019So I decided to give public comment and say a few things, such as noting that it would be nice to have more info about how the ADS task force is going -- the website lets us submit comment right now electronically, but will there be any public hearings before it delivers its findings in December?

And I noted that I'd submitted a request through the open data portal in late 2017, and then it got closed with no reason, and I'd like to use the PAD dataset to find AED deserts in NYC and help prevent deaths from cardiac events.

pen and ink drawings of 'A Government of the people, by the people, for the people - Lincoln' plaque, Greek-style column, decorative wall moldings, table with nameplates and microphones, and US flag, with scribbled notes I have never escalated a bug report while sitting in front of a microphone before, but it does seem to work, and now I have a number of people's business cards, and we've spoken a bit via email and phone, and my request is progressing along again.

(The hearing was about three hours long; I did a lot of sketching while listening, and share those illustrations here. Cross-hatching is an especially good way to occupy myself while listening to people say things I already know.)

My email to them read, in part:

I would like to map AED deserts in New York City so I can help local merchants decide to buy AEDs and register with the PAD program. (I can go into more detail on that if you'd like.) The most recent public map showing AED units in the PAD program in New York City, as far as I know, is in DOHMH's 2010 Report to City Council on LL20 of 2005, page 7, section 3.3. In case you cannot find it, I host a copy on my site: https://www.harihareswara.net/foi/nyc_dohmh_pad_2010.pdf

Jason and I discussed whether this particular line was a "flex" and/or a "power move," a discussion which necessitated some definitional work. I think a "flex" in current parlance is a brag, a boast. OK, so yes, then, this is a flex. What is a "power move"? I think it's an assertive choice that draws attention from others, claims dominance or demands respect in some unexpected way, upsets an unspoken rule and runs the risk of insulting others in order to efficiently pursue one's own desires. And -- if I gather correctly -- it's not solely a dominance display, but a means to some other purpose as well. But I genuinely don't know whether it is potentially insulting to say to a New York City government staffer, "in case you, a city staffer, have a hard time finding an obscure agency report from 9 years ago, here's a copy from me, a private citizen". So, maybe?

Let's see how this goes! It would be lovely if we could get more PAD coverage across NYC. And I hope the ADS task force has some interim status reports soon!


: Puns About Domain Names Are Kinda Par For The Course Around Here: I blearily woke this morning - Leonard was already up. I wished him a happy Valentine's Day.

"I think we really match. And in some sense, because we met online,* we met in e-harmony. And when I think of you, I say: OK, cupid."

He was definitely laughing by this point.

"But even though there are plenty of fish in the sea, I'm glad that we're consumating, that we ... something, something, spark, tinder ..... OK, I can't figure out how to work in JDate."

"Isn't that where Ashley Madison works?"

"Oh, that's good... wait! No! Not that one!"

He also offered to get me a "coffee and bagel" which reminded us of someone I met who showed me how the Coffee Meets Bagel app works. I had mentioned that I'd heard of the "bagel of the day" mechanic from the New York Times "Vows" section, and she'd replied, somewhat resentfully, that "Vows" is filled with people marrying their "bagel of the day". "Oh, it's The Ladders of dating apps," Leonard compared. (I'd also asked her: ok, if you have a "bagel of the day", and they have you as a "bagel of the day", then who's the coffee??!! She and I settled on the unsatisfying conclusion, "everyone is their own coffee".) We talked about how the "bagel of the day" seems to create temporal scarcity, to push the user to be more impulsive and go ahead and say yes.

"No, you have 24 hours to make a date, not to meet them -- how would that work? Like, you use NFC or Bluetooth and tap your phone to theirs? It's a dating app, not a scavenger hunt....I'm glad we're together, that we don't have to do the dating world, go through that grinder .... Grindr's actually even less appropriate to us than Ashley Madison."

Anyhow! My sympathies and best wishes to everyone today. I literally loathed Valentine's Day so much, as a teen, that I wrote an anti-Valentine's Day editorial every year, for all four years of high school, in my school paper, including one science fiction story where future kids marvel that back in the 20th century people had this awful destructive ritual. Now I have an old, familiar "grah" about it, plus a friend who works at a greeting card company and has to attend to battle stations all day.

So, whoever you are, I hope you get some laughs today and some unexpected delight, and, if you like puns, puns. More than the ones above, I mean.


* I met my partner online the old-fashioned way, by reading his blog.

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: Some Movies Are For Not-Me: I haven't really been keeping up with reviewing movies here. Some recent joys: I loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was astounding in its artistry and the marriage of story and virtuosic presentation. The Muppet Christmas Carol, which I'd never seen before I think, made me cry buckets and is an excellent adaptation of the Dickens! Won't You Be My Neighbor?, The Peacemaker, and Infinite Football are a sort of only-in-my-mind trilogy of documentaries about men's quests to improve some corner of our world.

But also: I've seen a few films recently for which I am perhaps not the target audience! Examples follow. Most of these were with Leonard so his film reviews are longer and more interesting.

  • The Jim Carrey film Man in the Moon about Andy Kaufman. Some quick impressions:

    1. The treatment of women in this movie, or in Kaufman's actual career, does not age well.
    2. Kaufman says he's not a comedian, but the ground he explored fed into areas people who comfortably call themselves comedians explore today, so I'm fine with including him under the comedian umbrella. Relatedly: I am currently impatient with people who "don't like labels" regarding the super-well-trodden work they do. You may be super uncomfortable with the fact that you are a comedian, an engineering manager, what have you. Deal with that discomfort instead of fleeing the truth.
    3. The fact that Kaufman meditated a lot is a hint that meditation, on its own and ripped out of any ethical framework, does not actually make someone a better or more loving person. If you use meditation as a technology to better separate yourself from illusions, you may just use it to be a better trickster.
    4. I also have, within me, the self-indulgent urge to mess with the audience, to confuse them and cause stirrings of unease. But, as Harry Josephine Giles points out, "Learning how to care for your audience is actually far more aesthetically interesting and politically disruptive than working out how to shock them."
  • Lilo & Stitch. This movie has multiple jerks in it, as protagonists, and does not sufficiently provide onscreen proof for assumptions that it assumes you'll go along with (e.g., the best way to make sure the orphaned child gets sufficient care).
  • Attack the Block. I think I saw this at the wrong time -- it was fresher when it came out, and I'd already seen films it influenced before I saw Block itself -- and it means more if you're steeped in the urban British context.
  • A Serious Man. A well-made depiction of certain kinds of agony.
  • Victoria & Abdul and Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, both of which seem to think the problem with the British oppression of India is that local subjects were deprived of a wholesome, classy, righteous queen (rather than, say, that Indians were deprived of representative democracy).
  • Beauty and the Beast, yes, the 1990s Disney animated blockbuster - I'd never seen it before. Wow, there are no men in this movie whom I would trust to buy 3 apples for me at the market.

There's more, I'm sure, but I don't want to go into a depressingly long list. I am not that much of a fiction author, and when I see people acting irresponsibly in fiction, I nearly physically want to reach into the screen and get them, like, therapy and a nap -- I want things that would make their lives better even if it would make the story worse.


: Socratic Questioning, Devil's Advocacy, and Conversational Power Tools: "Devil's advocate" was a job. In order for someone to perform the role of Devil's advocate, someone else had to appoint them to that position. And the Devil's advocate performed a bounded task within an established relationship with his debate opponent, towards the shared goal of a particular decision (whether to canonize someone).

Socratic questioning is a technique that a teacher uses with a student when both of them have agreed to that relationship. It includes a commitment by the teacher to the student's intellectual growth, and a variety of techniques in reflective listening.

I hang out in a lot of communities and with a lot of friends who care a lot about seeking truth and avoiding delusion. That's an admirable thing to want.

But in acting out these values, sometimes we misuse cool-looking tools, like Socratic questioning or the Devil's advocate position, by using them when we don't yet have a trusting relationship or (in particular with the "Devil's advocate" approach) a defined question and decision framework. For instance, if you consistently say things you don't mean in arguments, the people you are arguing with will come to trust you less. My friendships, work relationships, and hobby communities usually sit in the "caring" or "collaborative" part of the caring-to-combative spectrum;* if someone starts a competitive or even combative conversational game without first taking care to establish a magic circle, that breaks trust.

In conversation, when I find that I don't agree with someone else, I assume that our shared goal is to reach a mutual understanding. Perhaps one of us will persuade the other, or maybe we'll just understand why we disagree. But I'm open to revising that assumption in response to certain signals. When the person I'm talking with starts demanding that I stop to create and defend formal definitions for any word or phrase that I use, distributing the work of creating a shared understanding unequally, or cross-examining me without putting up their own point of view for examination, there's a level of disingenuousness there that I object to (the flip side of which a 2017 XKCD illustrates):

[comic transcript]

And the phrase "I'm just playing devil's advocate" in an online discussion, when the poster has not already asked others whether that's desired, is one of a suite of linguistic markers that make seasoned readers shake their heads. Because, as Alexandra Erin points out, "The phrase has basically morphed into Internet Argument Guy for 'I can argue with you but you can't argue with me.'"

If you want to "play devil's advocate" with me, or Socratically question something I've said, ask first, and mean it. And, as you reflect on whether you actually want to do that, consider the many other conversational approaches you might use instead.


* In retrospect I wish I'd considered this spectrum when discussing the liberty-to-hospitality spectrum.


: My Recent-ish Government Transparency Efforts: I've put together a page of my past few years of Freedom of Information Law requests and the responses they've garnered. In particular, folks might be interested in the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's followup reports to 2005's Local Law 20, regarding the quantities and locations of automated external defibrillators at certain public places -- they wrote these reports and submitted them to the City Council, but I couldn't find them anywhere online till I asked DOHMH for them.

Now I have a Muckrock account, which I used to successfully get the list of ~600 DMV-licensed driving schools in New York State. Funniest names: "Accurate Drving School", the coexistence of "Evolution" and "Revolution" driving schools, "Good Luck Driving School", the coexistence of "Mistah Driver Auto School" and "Mister Driver Driving School", "Super Mario's Driving Connection", and "Totally Cool Driving".


: A Few NYC Winter Hikes: I'm better when I hike more often. It nourishes me to clamber around rough trails and navigate and be among trees.

golden light on trees in Forest Park on a winter afternoon You actually can use city transit to get to parks within NYC for a short or daylong hike.

The other day, as it warmed up in the afternoon, I took the subway to Woodhaven, then a bus to Forest Park, yes, that is its actual name. Trail guide, map. The orange-blazed route took me about an hour and a half, including a little bit of getting lost and backtracking. There are substantial chunks where I couldn't hear or see cars/streets nearby. I needed that.

Another reasonable winter hike is the Greenbelt Yellow Trail (I did it from the southwest trailhead), which:

Traverses the entire Greenbelt from its Northeast corner in the community of Todt Hill to its Southwest corner in New Springville; access Moses' Mountain at Rockland Avenue and Manor Road behind bus stop....

This moderate-to-difficult 8-mile long trail brings hikers through Reeds Basket Willow Swamp. It ascends Todt Hill, then parallels the Blue Trail. Moses’ Mountain is located off the Yellow Trail off Rockland Avenue near High Rock Park.

Depending on where you're starting in NYC, you can take a combination of subway, bus, and ferry to get to the southwest trailhead. For me it was a full day's hike. At the other end I stopped in a strip mall restaurant for dinner before taking another combination of transit home.

The NYC Parks site lets you search the parks and filter for the ones that have hiking trails. That's how I found Forest Park.

afternoon light making a halo of thin branches in a copse of trees in Forest Park


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