Technology


26
Apr 16

Super Name: Fleep

An Oldie but a Goodie – Jane McGonigal

I had occasion this evening to revisit Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk from 2010, and it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:

Okay, so these are four superpowers that add up to one thing: Gamers are super-empowered hopeful individuals. These are people who believe that they are individually capable of changing the world. And the only problem is, they believe that they are capable of changing virtual worlds and not the real world.That’s the problem that I’m trying to solve.
– Jane McGonigal

 

I wrote about my experience playing the Superstruct game back then (and posted a fun video dispatch), and reading that post led me to dig up the profile I created on the Superstruct site, where I imagined my (avatar) self in 2019:

Super Name: Fleep

Profile Cohabitation
I and the gatos live in a small farm house on the outskirts of town. We don’t need much space, but have a large garden and work to contribute our share to the local food economy.

Profile Communities
I founded the Chilbo Community in 2006 and remain a life-long member, in addition to my local community in terra. I’m also a member of the Screaming 3D Bootstrappers Superstruct, the SLED Community, the Velks, and many other professional associations related to higher education and the grid.

Profile Skills
Human network resource management, education and community building in the metaverse, connectivism, and I grow a mean tomato.

Profile Profession
I am the founder of Chilbo and work most days either in the Chilbo Town Hall or elsewhere in the Metaverse. I have offices and projects scattered all over the grid and pop in to wherever I’m needed when I’m needed. I also serve on the Board of Trustees for GlobalGrid University, one of the original virtual-land-grant research universities created by the United Nations in 2012. GGU serves an international learning network of over 200 million learners through GGU Nodes of Excellence on the grid.

Profile Location
The Chilbo Community is a global village in the Metaverse, made up of artists, musicians, writers, teachers, students, creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, and those who are interested in contributing to the public good.

Profile Experience
As the Chilbo Community reached its second anniversary in 2008, and I spent more time traveling and learning in terra and on the grid, I began to better understand the rapid speed with which the Metaverse was developing. I was fortunate to stumble into an emergent network of highly motivated and brilliant nodes all over the globe and it quite literally transformed my life. In the ensuing decade, our network has grown tremendously, as has our capacity to collaborate and locate the resources we need as we need them. We continue to work to teach others these important skills even as we make our own contributions to projects and endeavors that inspire us.

Profiles Ideals
Increasing access to education, research, knowledge, and learning throughout the grid and finding ecologically sound and sustainable ways to live.

Super Name
Fleep

Super Id
6428

History

Member for
5 years 20 weeks


19
Mar 16

Morning Coffee Reading – 3/19/16

Blogging became too time-consuming.  Formatting, linking, embedding, bad copy pasta that has to be fixed.  But I’ll try again, because my network continues to inspire me so much, I feel I should make the effort as they do.  Bless their hearts, what would I read in the morning if they got lazy like me?

And, I remain forever amazed at how wonderful tripping, linking, chasing, stumbling through others’ thoughts on the internets can be, and how sharing our thoughts can further other people’s trips in (hopefully) meaningful ways.

Here’s my latest trip to go with your morning coffee.

Badges and evidence, the “reputation economy”, and data used to make decisions

Sparked by insomniac reading of Stephen Downing (@oldaily) at 4AM earlier this week, I saw that he gave a keynote address on the AvaCon grid at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education 2016 conference, wherein he speculates, “about the future of virtual worlds in learning when they are mixed with mobile devices and performance support systems.”

Scanning past Stephen’s blurb about the VWBPE keynote, somehow I came across Alan Levine’s (@cogdog) recent post “Seeking Evidence of Badge Evidence“, wherein he explores the usefulness of gamified badging systems if they don’t link to actual evidence that the badge was earned.  Metadata about the evidence isn’t the same as linking to the evidence itself, right?  Right.

This sparked a memory of an older post of mine, Twitter and the Reputation Economy in 2014, wherein I mused about how to measure “reputation” and suggested that Twitter Lists provide a non-obvious measure of something.  Alan subsequently pointed out that a Twitter list wordcloud may be an indicator,  but it is not a measure.  Good point.

My tweet about Alan’s post sparked D’Arcy Norman (@dlnorman) to point to Cory Doctorow’s (@doctorow) recent post about what a terrible currency reputation would be.

I agree that Whuffie would be a terrible currency, so be sure to read that @doctorow post, as well as “Wealth Inequality Is Even Worse in Reputation Economies“.

My tweet also sparked Alan to go down a deep, technically complicated but fascinating rabbit-hole of what my Twitter list wordcloud means, whether it’s useful, and how to generate one using docker, which I still don’t really understand.

But go read his post “Measurement or [indirect] Indicators of Reputation? A Twitter List / Docker / iPython Notebook Journey“.  It’s good stuff.

At the end of all that chain, I summed up my current take-aways about data used for decision-making on a comment to his post:

1) measurements and indicators are not the same thing, important point.

2) reliability is key, whether of a measure or indicator.

3) the use-case (type of decision you’re making) should drive the type of data used to make your measurement or indicator.

4) a measurement or indicator created for one use case may not transfer to a different use case.

Metaverse Vocabulary Words – Metaxis, Liminality, Stygmergy

Somewhere in checking out that tweet stream, I also came across Mark Childs’ (@markchilds) recent post exploring words that describe transitions, edges, limits, and perceptions of spaces, or places, or feelings of being present in a space or multiple spaces even.  

Just go read the post, “Metaxis and Liminality“.  

These concepts seem important for not just educators to understand, but also those of us working to create the Metaverse and places in virtual worlds.

My tweet about Mark’s post then sparked Leon Cych (@eyebeams) to share that they had local drama students acting out roles in Minecraft:

 

..the video of which relates to Midas’ golden touch played out in Minecraft, and that perfectly captures and visualizes the idea of stygmergya word I came to know and love through Sarah Robbins (@intellagirl) years ago when she was exploing using virtual worlds for teaching.  See her “Using a Faceted Classification Scheme to Predict the Future of Virtual Worlds”.  (I should link to her dissertation, but I can’t find a good link.)


Machine Learning, AI, and Science Fiction

After clicking through all that, I went back to Leon’s Twitter page to make sure I was following him (I am), and saw that he referenced the above tweet and forwarded Mark Child’s post on to Martin Robinson (@surrealanarchy), who apparently has changed his main Twitter account to @trivium21c (I followed that account, too).

 

I then ended up reading Martin Robinson’s tweet about machine learning and “When AI rules the world: what SF novels tell us about our future overlords.”

 

There are several books mentioned in there that I surely must read, now.  I might come back and list them, but I might not, so read the article and see for yourself which books you also need to read.

David Foster Wallace, which never gets old.

And in that AI & SF article, there was a link to a David Foster Wallace quote, which takes you to his “This is Water” commencement speech, posted, of all places, in the Wall Street Journal.

The perfect, beautiful hilarity of reading that speech on the WSJ website was so awesome, I thought, this is where I end my trip today.

Enjoy your morning coffee.


5
Feb 14

Thinking About Thinking: On Reason, Dogma, Technology Amplifying Our Choices, & the Power of Our Personal Narratives

No great insights from me, I’m afraid, just sharing some inputs, somewhat sparked by the Creation Debate last night.  All the bolded text is emphasis added by me.

Jonathan Haidt, on the known flaws in human reasoning:

Reason is indeed crucial for good public policy and a good society. But isn’t the most reasonable approach one that takes seriously the known flaws of human reasoning and tries to work around them? Individuals can’t be trusted to reason well when passions come into play, yet good reasoning can sometimes emerge from groups. This is why science works so well. Scientists suffer from the confirmation bias like everybody else, but the genius of science as an institution is that it incentivizes scientists to disconfirm each others’ ideas, and it creates a community within which a reasoned consensus eventually emerges.

I agree with Harris that the historical shift away from revealed religion as the basis of society and toward democracy, individual rights, reason, and science as foundations of moral and political authority has been overwhelmingly good for people in Western societies. I am not anti-reason. I am also not anti-religion. I am opposed to dogmatism. I am skeptical of each person’s individual powers of reasoning, and I’m even more skeptical of the reasoning of groups of activists, hyper-partisans, and other righteous reformers who would remake society according to their own reasoned (or revealed) vision.

I prefer to think about how cultural evolution has made our society more rational by indirect means. Social institutions (such as science, democracy, markets, and universities) evolve in ways that we often don’t understand, yet they can end up fostering better reasoning and better lives as an emergent property of a complex society.

Simon Critchley on The Dangers of Certainty: A Lesson From Auschwitz:

There is no God’s eye view, Dr. Bronowski insisted, and the people who claim that there is and that they possess it are not just wrong, they are morally pernicious. Errors are inextricably bound up with pursuit of human knowledge, which requires not just mathematical calculation but insight, interpretation and a personal act of judgment for which we are responsible. The emphasis on the moral responsibility of knowledge was essential for all of Dr. Bronowski’s work. The acquisition of knowledge entails a responsibility for the integrity of what we are as ethical creatures.

The play of tolerance opposes the principle of monstrous certainty that is endemic to fascism and, sadly, not just fascism but all the various faces of fundamentalism. When we think we have certainty, when we aspire to the knowledge of the gods, then Auschwitz can happen and can repeat itself.

Kevin Kelley about his embrace of “The Technium” from The Edge, and how technology is giving us new choices and amplifying the choices we make (which I’ve written about in an earlier post, too):

One way to think about this is if you imagine the very first tool made, say, a stone hammer. That stone hammer could be used to kill somebody, or it could be used to make a structure, but before that stone hammer became a tool, that possibility of making that choice did not exist. Technology is continually giving us ways to do harm and to do well; it’s amplifying both. It’s amplifying our power to do well and our power to do harm, but the fact that we also have a new choice each time is a new good. That, in itself, is an unalloyed good—the fact that we have another choice and that additional choice tips that balance in one direction towards a net good. So you have the power to do evil expanded. You have the power to do good expanded. You think that’s a wash. In fact, we now have a choice that we did not have before, and that tips it very, very slightly in the category of the sum of good.

Philippa Perry (“How to Stay Sane“) via Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, on the narratives we tell ourselves:

Our stories give shape to our inchoate, disparate, fleeting impressions of everyday life. They bring together the past and the future into the present to provide us with structures for working towards our goals.

[…]

Be careful which stories you expose yourself to.

[…]

The meanings you find, and the stories you hear, will have an impact on how optimistic you are: it’s how we evolved. … If you do not know how to draw positive meaning from what happens in life, the neural pathways you need to appreciate good news will never fire up.

[…]

You may find that you have been telling yourself that practicing optimism is a risk, as though, somehow, a positive attitude will invite disaster and so if you practice optimism it may increase your feelings of vulnerability. The trick is to increase your tolerance for vulnerable feelings, rather than avoid them altogether.

[…]

Optimism does not mean continual happiness, glazed eyes and a fixed grin. When I talk about the desirability of optimism I do not mean that we should delude ourselves about reality. But practicing optimism does mean focusing more on the positive fall-out of an event than on the negative.

[…]

We all like to think we keep an open mind and can change our opinions in the light of new evidence, but most of us seem to be geared to making up our minds very quickly. Then we process further evidence not with an open mind but with a filter, only acknowledging the evidence that backs up our original impression. It is too easy for us to fall into the rap of believing that being right is more important than being open to what might be.

If we practice detachment from our thoughts we learn to observe them as though we are taking a bird’s eye view of our own thinking. When we do this, we might find that our thinking belongs to an older, and different, story to the one we are now living.

[…]

We need to look at the repetitions in the stories we tell ourselves [and] at the process of the stories rather than merely their surface content. Then we can begin to experiment with changing the filter through which we look at the world, start to edit the story and thus regain flexibility where we have been getting stuck.

I would credit all the folks in my Twitter stream who shared these links if I hadn’t lost track with all the open tabs, but if you’re one of them, thanks for the food for thought.

 


27
Jan 14

The Horrors of Windows 8, Hard to Downgrade Even!

Windows 8 WTF

Image courtesy burkeyavademy.blogspot.com.

I’ve had a heck of a time trying to downgrade a new box from Windows 8 to Windows 7.  For my own future reference and anyone else who runs into this trouble, here are some solutions that worked for me.

How to Power Down Windows 8 from the GUI

What kind of crazy engineering led to it being completely non-obvious how to even shut a Windows 8 machine down gracefully?!  Well, it’s hidden in the “charms bar”.. Mouse to the lower right corner > Settings > Power icon > choose shutdown method.

Clean Install of Windows 7 on GPT Partition Disc

Ignore all the stuff you see on the web telling you to disable UEFI, installing from boot media won’t work if UEFI is disabled.  Instead, go into the bios, enable UEFI but disable secure boot, then change the boot media order to boot from CD.  Voila.

Clean Install of Windows 7 – Product Key Activation Error

If you get an error that your (completely valid and legit) product key can only be used to upgrade the operating system but can’t be used for a clean install, you can change a registry setting to get around this issue.  (Thanks to LifeHacker for the steps.)

  1. Press the Windows key and type regedit. Press enter to open the Registry Editor.
  2. Navigate toHKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Setup/OOBE/and double-click on the MediabootInstall key in the right pane.
  3. Change the key’s value from 1 to 0.
  4. Exit the Registry Editor, press the Windows key again, and type cmd. Right-click on the Command Prompt icon and run it as an administrator.
  5. Type slmgr /rearm and press Enter.
  6. Reboot Windows.

Let us hope this ends my nightmare experience with Windows 8, which I shall endeavor to avoid like the plague for as long as possible.


19
Jan 14

Part 2: Snowden – Whistleblowing & Its Consequences

Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning

A couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts about clemency for Edward Snowden and whether I thought he was a hero.  My main point was that I was grateful to know the information he gave the world, but I felt that fleeing the US was an immoral choice, that whistleblowers who make the decision to “go public” have a responsibility to stand by their decision whatever the consequences.  I said that even if I could understand the choice to run, that that didn’t meet my standard of “hero”.

The post generated a lot of comments, and I’ve been thinking about some of those responses.

First, I have to acknowledge the insensitivity of referring to Chelsea Manning as “he” and by a prior name.  I fully 100% support everyone’s right to define their own identity, and it was thoughtless of me to do otherwise.  I suppose that the name “Bradley Manning” had become somewhat iconic in my own mind and though I was aware of her choice to become known as Chelsea, it was almost as if the whistleblowing icon and the actual person had become separate entities in my brain.

But of course they aren’t separate at all, Chelsea Manning is an actual person, and its exactly these kinds of careless and unthinking errors that expose cisgender privilege and, however unintentionally, perpetuate prejudice and discrimination.  Many thanks to those who pointed this out and I will be more conscious and thoughtful in the future.

Regarding the discussion about whether or not Snowden is a hero, everyone who commented here or on G+ or other places universally disagreed with my position. I have a lot of respect for the people in my network and when my perspective is completely out of step with the majority view, it definitely gives me pause.  Even more so when virtually everyone thinks I’m wrong.  😉

I think it speaks very highly of the folks who read my blog that though they disagreed with me, passionately even, no one was disrespectful or rude, and I appreciate that. For me, blogging is a form of processing, of trying to think through issues and problems, and I’m always ready to acknowledge that I may be wrong.  The whole point of posting publicly is to get feedback and to have good dialogue with people who are also passionate about the issues I care about, and I’m happiest when we’re really digging into an issue but doing it kindly and civilly with each other.  So thanks to everyone for keeping it cool.

I can’t say that I’ve been completely swayed from my position by the arguments everyone made, but it has made me think more about the complexity of Snowden’s particular situation.  My mother and many others asked if I thought Snowden should have paid with his life for his actions, and the answer is no, I don’t think he deserves to die or spend life in prison for trying to expose the wrongdoing of the NSA.  I also agree that both of those scenarios were plausible outcomes if he had chosen to stay instead of leaving the US, and by that logic, then he would be justified in trying to protect himself from that fate.

Despite that, I still feel resistance to the idea that it is a moral choice to blow the whistle and run.

I may be persuaded that Edward Snowden’s, or to some extent, even Chelsea Manning’s, specific circumstances were extraordinary.  That they were not exposing your run-of-the-mill malfeasance or wrong-doing, but rather they were exposing wrongdoing of such a horrific scale and magnitude, and perpetrated not by some low level official or small corporate concern, but by our own government across many branches and departments, and therefore that deserves some leeway.  I think that’s a fair argument and it’s forced me to reconsider my position.

I would still argue, though, that universalizing Snowden’s decision to flee is ultimately NOT the best outcome – for whistleblowers OR for the society a whistleblower is trying to protect.  In the best of worlds, what should happen is that the whistleblower should be safe, should be protected, should be given safe harbor until the disclosures can be digested and the situation investigated.  Edward Snowden shouldn’t have to flee his own country, rather our government and our society should have better measures in place and better systems to protect those who make the brave choice to expose wrongdoing.  We should be demanding better protections for the Mannings and Snowdens (and Swartzs) of the world.

And I guess that’s where it shakes out for me.  If we universalize Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle and flee, and say that’s ok, then we run a two-fold risk:

1) We open the door for anyone claiming whistleblower status to get a pass whether it’s deserved or not.  I maintain that making a public accusation of wrongdoing carries with it a responsibility to stand behind the claim. We all must have the right to face our accusers, and whistleblowers are not and cannot be exempt from that.  Due process matters, it protects us from unfounded accusations and (in an ideal world) acts as a safeguard against vigilante justice, by the state OR other people.

2) We let ourselves off the hook for failing to provide the protections that legitimate whistleblowers deserve.  While I’ll admit that Snowden likely had little rational choice but to leave, don’t we all agree that he shouldn’t have had to?  I think in some way, blessing Snowden’s decision to flee is a form of ignoring our own complicity in a system that we know is terribly unjust.  Instead of arguing about whether or not he was justified in running, we really should be expending that energy on making it so he doesn’t have to – not just for Snowden, but for all the legitimate whistleblowers out there who don’t have international visibility and media scrutiny to protect them.


That’s where my reasoning is at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll keep thinking on this for some time to come.  Thanks again to everyone who commented, and as always, feel free to disagree!  🙂


11
Jan 14

Twitter and the Reputation Economy in 2014

Back in 2009 when Twitter Lists first came out, I had a little epiphany about the reputation economy.  It isn’t just what you say about yourself online, but what others say and post about you in the aggregate, and all the associated metadata of your online life, that can define “who you are” in the Metaverse.  That only seems to be more true as time has gone on, and despite the over-hype of the “reputation economy” buzzword, I still find it interesting and potentially meaningful, but only if the measures of reputation are accurate.  We’re definitely not there yet, and I’m not sure we’re really any further than we were in 2009, either.

It’s hard to do an analysis of accuracy for anyone but myself, but if I had to say which system seems to currently have the best measure of “who I am” based on what others say about me, I’d have to say it’s not Klout, or LinkedIn Endorsements or any of those obvious attempts to measure reputation.  The best measure as far as I can tell is actually Twitter.  What Twitter Lists people have placed me in, which isn’t obvious at all, and isn’t even something Twitter seems to explicitly leverage as a measure of reputation, is actually a pretty good measure!

[A brief aside, I’m sad that Twitter seems to have buried Lists and made them almost non-obvious, since as far as I’m concerned, Lists are a crucial component of making Twitter useful at all.  Many folks who joined Twitter after Lists came out don’t even seem to know they exist!  If you happen to be one of those unfortunate souls, get thee to your Twitter page > Me > Lists > Create List and start categorizing people.  Or click “Member of” to see what lists others have added to you to.  I bet you’ll find some of them very surprising, hopefully in a good way.  And after you’ve made some lists, tools like TweetDeck will suddenly make a LOT more sense to you, and your Twitter stream will become much more meaningful, relevant and less.. ephemeral.]

But back to the topic.  So what does my Twitter network say about me?  Some pretty good stuff, actually:

Twitter Lists Word Cloud for Fleep

When I boiled the List Names down, I got 191 unique terms and, though I modified the frequency to make the word cloud readable (if I hadn’t, all you would see is: Second Life, Virtual Worlds, Education, Immersive, Cincinnati, which were the top 5 list names), I’d say that’s a really accurate representation of my online life.  It accurately reflects my professional and geeky interests, and if you dig in there a bit, it tells you my gender, where I live, what I do for a living, some of the books I’ve read, games I’ve played, conferences I’ve attended, that I’m old enough to be on someone’s BBS list, and if I can say it humbly, that overall people have a pretty positive opinion of me.   

I am of course quite biased, but I think I have a pretty awesome network of super intelligent people who love digging into the future of technology and education, and who like to think about what all this emerging tech will mean for the future of society, so it’s all the more interesting to see what kinds of categories they create for themselves and where they place me within that context.  (I confess to having some warm fuzzies after seeing how the word cloud came out, so thanks Twitter peeps!)

LinkedIn’s Endorsements are another interesting measure, though of a slightly different sort.  I’d say it’s also fairly accurate, but it pretty much captures only my professional interests and misses all the personal, quirky, or other interests I have.

LinkedIn Endorsements for Fleep 2014

Some folks I know have also complained that they get endorsements for skills from people who aren’t even in a position to know whether or not they have any expertise in that topic, and that happens to me, too.  But in general, I’d say LinkedIn Endorsements are less a measure of what you are actually skilled at doing and more a measure of what people think you are skilled at doing.  They aren’t the same thing, but both are interesting and useful measures.

By comparison, I would say Klout is the least representative of the various “reputation economy” or influence measures about me.  I don’t know how they weight stuff, but it looks like the Klout list was probably fairly accurate about 5 years ago, but as my focus, interests, and activities have changed, Klout hasn’t seemed to have kept up.  It captures the same top 5 categories as Twitter Lists, but that’s about it.  None of the nuance, history, and none of the topics I’ve become interested in since.. what, their initial calculations?  I’m not sure.

I should also admit some bias here, I became very aggravated with Klout when they sent me what seemed like an email every few days to tell me my Klout score was going down, when at the time I was helping take care of my grandpa who was dying of cancer.  The insensitivity of it really struck a nerve, like I should really give a hoot about my Klout score at a time like that?  And how meaningful a measure could it possibly be if I’m less influential because I’m offline doing something important?

No matter what Klout says, I know my network values human life and knows what is and isn’t truly important.  In fact, my guess is that my network would probably rank my reputation higher for having been a dedicated caregiver, not lower.

And of course that’s the big problem with all of these reputation or influence measures – the algorithms can’t yet measure what’s REALLY important: trustworthiness, competence, honesty, reliability, compassion, dedication, clarity, ability to synthesize and make meaning from complexity.  These are the measures I really want to know about someone, and as far as I can tell, there’s nothing out there like that yet.

The Twitter List names that people create for themselves, some of which touch on values not just buzzwords, are the closest I’ve seen to anything like those kinds of measures, which for me makes Twitter a potentially overlooked but pretty important tool in the reputation and influence measure toolkit in 2014.


7
Jan 14

How Do We “Immunize” Society Against Technology Futures We DON’T Want?

Recently The Guardian published an interesting critique of the TED Talks series by Benjamin Bratton that I’ve been thinking about since I read it.   The piece asks what good does it do for TED to take extremely complex topics and boil them down into 20 minute presentations, which are viewed as infotainment by a certain segment of people, and then not much gets done about the issues being discussed.  I think it’s an interesting critique, and as someone who organizes technology conferences, I often worry that if we all just come and do a lot of talking and not much afterwards, what purpose has the conference really served?  I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts.

Beyond the critique of TED Talks, however, there were two lines in particular that really struck me:

Because, if a problem is in fact endemic to a system, then the exponential effects of Moore’s law also serve to amplify what’s broken.

And the concept of not just innovating but also “immunizing” society:

The potential for these technologies are both wonderful and horrifying at the same time, and to make them serve good futures, design as “innovation” just isn’t a strong enough idea by itself. We need to talk more about design as “immunisation,” actively preventing certain potential “innovations” that we do not want from happening.

Regarding the exponential effects of Moore’s Law, I’ve written before that I think our public institutions (government, academia, social structures) aren’t just failing to keep pace with changes in technology, but that the technology itself is amplifying their (our) failures.  Wherever a gap existed before the information age, now it’s becoming a gulf (think income disparity, socio-economic mobility, access to real political power).

Whatever minor systemic failures or bureaucratic quagmires that crept in during the industrial age are turning into full-blown catastrophic disasters in the information age. See the US Congress or our public education system for stark examples, both represent not just a failure to adapt to a changing world, but technology is also amplifying the ills inherent in those systems with truly catastrophic results – a congress that has gone from dysfunctional to not functional at all, and a public school system that is failing the very students it was designed to help – the poor, the underserved, the first-generation students.

We talk and read about “disruptive innovation” every day in the tech and business press, but often its in the context of “creative destruction” as some new business model or product displaces an old one, and in general that’s seen as a positive outcome in a “free” market system.  But for public systems and institutions, those public goods that have no profit or market incentive, this amplification of the broken is really very scary to me and I am not at all convinced that privatization of public systems is the answer (which is why I don’t support charter schools or for-profit education businesses, no matter how innovative they promise to be – MOOCx blah blah blah).

The most important things in life can’t be quantified in dollars and we can’t “innovate” a business model or technology solution that changes that basic fact.

So where does that leave us?  I’m not sure, but I’m intrigued by Bratton’s concept of “immunizing” society against the futures we don’t want, and I’m wondering just how we might go about doing that.  Bratton says:

Problems are not “puzzles” to be solved. That metaphor assumes that all the necessary pieces are already on the table, they just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed. It’s not true.  “Innovation” defined as moving the pieces around and adding more processing power is not some Big Idea that will disrupt a broken status quo: that precisely is the broken status quo.

.. and I’m inclined to agree.  I think those of us who consider ourselves technology evangelists and futurists need to think long and hard about these questions.

As a practical step, perhaps one way to help “immunize” society against the technology futures we don’t want would be to make sure that every talk we give, every presentation, every slide deck (or Prezi or whatever), every workshop has a section about possible NEGATIVE outcomes of the technology we’re talking about, and what we could or should do to avoid it?  If we’re going to spread the word about new tech, don’t we have a responsibility to also discuss the possible negative effects? Perhaps as conference organizers and workshop planners, we need to include not just positive visioning, activities, and keynotes, but  sessions that specifically talk about the possible negative outcomes?

I’m not sure, but it’s something I’m thinking about and want to keep in mind.


23
Feb 13

Must Watch – Lessig’s Harvard Law Talk About Aaron’s Law

I found this both moving and inspiring. I’ve come to believe that academics and researchers have a moral imperative to fight closed publishing, and this talk by Lessig only makes me feel that more strongly.


16
Oct 12

An Ada Lovelace Day Essay: Why Didn’t They Tell Me a Technical Career is All About Helping People?


Me blowing bubbles on my grandpa’s back steps, age 3 or 4?

. . .

When I was a little girl, back when most girls my age were dreaming of being ballerinas, princesses, or veterinarians (a popular choice in my rural community), I dreamed of being the President of the United States.  I’m not sure when or why I came up with that idea, I just knew I wanted to help people, and in my little girl mind it seemed like the president got to help all kinds of people.

Then one day, I think maybe in 2nd grade or so, we were assigned a class project to draw a picture of our future selves at work in our dream jobs.  I drew a picture of myself in the White House behind a big desk, probably with some rainbows and pink and purple hearts.  Anyway, as we took turns sharing our pictures with the class, it was finally my turn and I was pretty excited that no one else had wanted to be my dream job yet.  So you can imagine how upset I became when a classmate interrupted me to say that could never happen because only boys could be presidents.  I promptly started crying, but it was an angry kind of (embarrassed) crying.  That kid probably unwittingly planted some of the earliest seeds for my lifelong feminism.  I was sure I’d prove him wrong – some day!

. . .

I never made a conscious choice to work in the field of Information Technology.  What started as a student worker position in my university IT department eventually turned into full time job, but even though I was working full time, I spent many years thinking my day job was just a placeholder until I could graduate and get on with my real career. Eventually I realized that the calling for public service I felt from a very young age has been realized by a career in IT, it just took a different path than I expected, and I didn’t think of it that way for so long in part because the narrative society tells us about what it means to work in technical fields is all wrong.

Working in Engineering and Information Technology is all about helping people.  It isn’t some abstract, impersonal problem solving exercise.

I was fortunate to have had early access to a computer and other kinds of technology even as a pretty young girl.  My grandpa was an engineer, and the day he taught me how to load up games on his Commodore 64 was life altering.  Load “*”, 8, 1 became a passport into whole new exciting worlds and I can directly trace my current job right back to that very first experience.  I also knew one of my uncles was a computer programmer, and as I got older, I certainly understood that his job was high paying, challenging, and high status.  Another uncle was an engineer too, and I knew he also had a good paying job and everyone seemed to respect his work and his career.  All these men in my family, who I loved and respected, who seemed to be judged as some of the most successful career-wise in the family, and yet I had absolutely ZERO interest in doing what they did for a living.  Why?  Because it all sounded so darned boring.

My first game addiction, Ultima III Exodus on the Commodore 64.

When I think back to what that young version of me thought of their jobs, I associate all kinds of very dry, abstract concepts and words to their work.  It seemed to involve a lot of math.  It seemed to be about working with tools and machines and metals.  It seemed to have nothing at all to do with other human beings, other people, or about solving the kinds of social problems that I found interesting and compelling as I got older and more conscious of the wider world.  Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that technical fields like engineering and computer science were not only off limits for girls, but they were about inhuman, mechanical things, which I had no interest in anyway!

What’s funny is that you could excuse this misconception from a young girl growing up in the 80s, but it’s a lot harder to understand how I could still think that way even as an adult actually working in an IT job, and even though my mom worked in IT too!  The difference was, my mom’s work stories were always about the people and relationships, so even though she also worked in a technical field I guess I didn’t associate her job in the same way – I thought of her as a people problem solver, not a technical problem solver, and somehow never made the connection between the two.

Connecting the purpose of our work to the tools we use to do it

I think what happened is that the information I absorbed about what it means to work in a technical field was focused on the tools used to do the work, not the purpose of the work.  And frankly, a hammer just isn’t very interesting.  But if you talk about how using a hammer can help you build houses, and building houses helps families have stable, happy homes, then suddenly that inanimate hammer object is placed in a human context that’s tied to something relatable even to the youngest of children.  Focusing on the tools used in technical fields is obviously appealing to some people, but it certainly wasn’t appealing to me.

Because of these misconceptions about IT work, I spent the early part of my career avoiding the more challenging technical aspects of the job.  Partly it was out of fear that I wouldn’t be smart enough to figure it out (girls can’t be system administrators or programmers!), and partly because I was under the mistaken impression that becoming more technically adept would take me further away from the human interaction that I loved most about my job.  It took me years to discover that I was wrong on both counts.  Perhaps if someone had helped me connect the dots, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to discover how thrilling it is create something new that people find useful or valuable, or how wonderful it is to empower others to use technology for their own goals.

Me explaining the architecture of the University of Cincinnati’s OpenSimulator grid.

I think the way we frame the narrative of technology work has a lot to do with why girls and women choose other career paths.  Even today, I doubt many people would associate working in technology with public service, even though in large part, the purpose of our work is about solving human problems, improving living conditions, and making society better. We just don’t talk about it that way.  And we should, because for all the little girls (and boys) who are drawn to the human elements of a particular career, we want them to know that IT and engineering jobs can be very human centered!  Yes the programming and software and protocols are necessary to do the work, but that’s not why we do the work – we do the work to make the world a better, safer, more interesting and beautiful place, just like doctors and veterinarians and ballerinas – and (hopefully) presidents.

Ada Lovelace Day aims to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire. This international day of celebration helps people learn about the achievements of women in STEM, inspiring others and creating new role models for young and old alike.

Ada Lovelace is widely held to have been the first computer programmer. Close friends with inventor Charle Babbage, Lovelace was intrigued by his Analytical Engine and in 1842, she translated a description of it by italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea. Babbage asked her to expand the article, “as she understood [it] so well”, and this was when she wrote several early ‘computer programs’. Ada Lovelace died of cancer at 36, her potential tragically unfulfilled.  

Learn more about Ada Lovelace and do your part to support women in science, technology, engineering, and math!


10
Dec 11

Why This Gmail User Switched to 2-Step Authentication And You Should Too

A few weeks ago, I took the plunge to change to Google’s 2-Factor authentication for increased security and after reading a horrifying article in The Atlantic about a user’s Gmail getting hacked and all of their email deleted, I’m glad that I did.  From the article in The Atlantic:

At Google I asked Byrant Gehring, of Gmail’s consumer-operations team, how often attacks occur. “Probably in the low thousands,” he said. “Per month?,” I asked. “No, per day,” followed by the reassurance that most were short-lived “hijackings,” used to send spam and phishing messages, and caused little or no damage, unlike our full-out attack. My wife and I, having heard from half a dozen friends who’d recently had similar problems, had innocently imagined that we all were part of some general upsurge in Gmail attacks. In our grandiosity, we thought it was perhaps even aimed at journalists. But according to the experts, while there are more e‑mail attacks worldwide than a year ago, it was mere coincidence that people we knew had been hit around the same time. On average, half a dozen accounts are taken over every two or three minutes, round the clock, including now.

I often say that Google owns my online soul because it’s true.  I switched to using Gmail years ago and since that time I’ve eventually adopted a huge number of Google services to manage my online life – Google Docs, Google Checkout, Google has my calendar, Google Analytics for checking my website traffic..  My Google account contains tons of crucial data.  And while I’ve gotten much better about performing automatic backups of my local data, I’ve not been nearly as good about keeping track of my data in the cloud, and despite knowing better, I’ve been somewhat lazy about my passwords, too.

I haven’t had any catastrophic hacks or data loss events recently, but in general, 2011 has been a year of re-thinking my use of the cloud and third party services, and as part of that I’m also trying to improve my overall “data hygeine” by making backups of cloud based services and improving my password security around the web.  It’s a tedious job and I can’t say it’s been easy.  Some friends have suggested password manager sites like KeePass but I’m still wary and haven’t made that jump yet.  Instead I’ve just tried to do some simple but smarter things like not re-using the same password everywhere and making the passwords I do use longer and more complex – with special characters and not just numbers, spaces if a site allows it.

All of these things are helping me feel a little less vulnerable over-all, and I definitely feel that the switch to Google 2-Factor authentication was a good move even if it’s been slightly inconvenient a time or two.  When I think about how much data is tied to my Google account and how reliant I am on that access to do my day-to-day work, a little inconvenience is a small price to pay for the additional security.

If you don’t know what 2-Factor authentication is, check out Google’s explanation and overview, but basically, I can’t log into my Google account from a new computer unless I can enter the verification code they send to my cell phone.  I have some backup phone numbers available in case I’m somewhere without cell phone service, and a list of backup codes written old skool style on paper in case I don’t even have that.  But generally speaking, this means some random dude from Nigeria cannot log into my account unless he’s also got my cell phone.

If you use Gmail or other Google services, you should switch to the 2-Step Authentication asap.

Again from the Hacked article in The Atlantic:

WHAT ABOUT THE rest of us, who are not security professionals? I asked that of every person I interviewed. Many of their recommendations boiled down to the hope that people would think more about their life online. “We’d like people to view their information life the way they view other parts of their life,” Andrew Kovacs of Google said. “It’s a good practice to review your financial situation every so often, and it’s a good practice to review your passwords and online-account information too.” Another official compared “cloud hygiene” to personal hygiene: you feel bad if you don’t brush your teeth or take a shower, and you should learn to feel bad if you’re taking risks online.

I’ve been feeling bad about the risks I’ve taken online and every step I take to get a little more security helps.  Hope you take those steps too because none of us wants to be the woman in that story.