Collective implicit learning and the internet

Morning reading. Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology, 1990 (revised 1999).

Franklin describes how, in a classroom, students are learning some particular thing, but are also picking up social skills “ranging from listening, tolerance, and cooperation to patience, trust, or anger management.” She then tells a story as a metaphor, of people who take a ski lift and then ski downhill — doing something complex and dangerous without having first acquired the skills to manage climbing, falling, getting up again on skis. Presumably by going up a hill on skis, which I didn’t even know was a thing, or, I guess in cross country skiing you are going up and down hills.

Well, anyway, her point is that on the internet or in online collaboration more people are… doing stuff… without having practiced and socialized the skills to do it in a social or maybe a public context. This may be less true than it was in 1990 or 1999. (And, anyway, not SO different from letter writing, though I recall all those “netiquette” guides. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen something like that. Do elementary schools teach internet manners?)

It often strikes me as I listen to my teenagers online in games with their friends, from their early days building things in Minecraft to later games like Overwatch, that they are becoming very skilled in negotiating, planning, and executing their plans in a collaborative way over voice and text chat, combined with whatever layers of drama exist between them. It’s a set of complex skills that they’ll bring into their adult online life. This isn’t that complicated of an idea, but I think of it when I listen to other parents freaking out about “screen time” or the pointlessness of games.

Tangential but I also liked this quote she includes from Fritz Schumacher,

. . .we may derive the three purposes of human work as follows:
First, to provide necessary and useful goods and services.
Second, to enable every one of us to use and thereby perfect our gifts like good stewards.
Third, to do so in service to, and in cooperation with, others, so as to liberate ourselves from our inborn egocentricity.

That’s so interesting! I looked Schumacher up just now, and realized that his book A Guide for the Perplexed is the VERY BOOK that my friend Rose was describing at dinner last night!!!!! WTF!!! It’s like when you first hear a word and then come across it everywhere.

The Stack

Danny just handed me a giant book called The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, saying, “Just open that anywhere and start reading.” 20 seconds later I squawked OH MY GOD!!! WHAT IS THIS! WHAAAAAT!!!!!??!!!

He always brings me good things!

It’s very interesting! I kind of want to re-buy it on kindle (it’s too big for me to hold up in bed) and dig in. This is going to be a wild ride.

Word generator

This pun generator seems amazingly useful for making up words!

Check this out, putting in liberation and subway (Danny’s idea) got some good stuff:

https://www.punchlinedesign.net/pun_generator/liberation+subway

A “represstroom” should just be the new word for an inaccessible or locked bathroom! Playing around a bit, you can come up with distressroom and depressroom!

And an “oppresscalator” is just amazing no matter how you use it — the opposite of an accesscalator! When it’s covered in poop, it’s a grotesqualator! A pee filled elevator is a repelevator!

I may never get anything accomplished ever again other than playing with this.

Remembering a moment in 1993

Every once in a while I think of this. I used to spend a lot of time in the early 90s playing (and writing) MUDs on my boyfriend’s leftover prototype Mac Portable (ie the “mac luggable”). (A bit later, another prototype Mini Duo Dock was like a dream…. so tiny and light!) I also spent a fair amount of time on IRC and gopher (and archie) just poking around, looking at stuff, spelunking, looking for new MUDs and BBSes to try out. My hangout was Dark Side of the Moon at the time.

Anyway one day in 1993 Kevin came home and was showing us (probably some combo of me, max, and my sister) this new awesome thing, Mosaic. MIND BLOWN. I remember just going into a sort of trance like I was on mental overdrive. I yelled “OH FUCK. They’re going to put ADS on our COMPUTERS.” “No… haahahah that couldn’t happen. What do you mean. What?” Look. I’m telling you. ADS… my god…. oh, god. OH GOD!!!!! “No one would let that happen. They’re our computers.” OH MY GOD YOU DON’T SEE IT. I’M TELLING YOU!!!!

It was like the Double Rainbow guy but the polar opposite. It was like being Cassandra or someone in a place about to be severely colonized. I could see it all. I could see the future.

Well, hello there past me. You were correct. It’s as dystopian as you thought it would be! And even weirder!

Sometimes it slams into me again all at once and I feel a wild sense of cognitive dissonance that this is where we ended up.

Road trip songs

On the drive back Danny played me some of a new Pet Shop Boys album in which they sing about social media (rhymed with Wikipedia, and greedier). They were so bad that we started making up new lyrics like “Get off my lawn” and “I used to be in a disco, now I’m on the city council”, “It’s so irritating when people don’t use their turn signals on these horseless carriages” and “Just let me sing another didactic bad internet song”.

“I was hoping for something more dreamy and poetic,” I complained.

Danny explained that Britain is too upset for that right now. Makes sense I guess.

We then played “It’s a Sin” to get back into the proper Pet Shop Boys loving frame of mind.

Some recent Internet reading

An interview with Jaron Lanier, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/delete-your-account-a-conversation-with-jaron-lanier/#!

So the problem is that when people say, “Oh, we use social media for social justice,” they’re typically correct. And yet in the longer story they’re really vulnerable to a far greater backlash than they would have gotten if they used another technique. At the end of the day, it’s hard to say whether they really benefited or not.

I disagree with what Lanier seems to be trying to say here. Of course if your activism reaches more people you are going to get more backlash. Are the specific people advocating for change ever going to be the ones to personally benefit for that change? Rare!

What they want to do is take whatever input people put into the system and find a way to turn it into the most engagement possible. And the most engagement comes from the startle emotions, like fear and anger and jealousy, because they tend to rise the fastest and then subside the slowest in people, and the algorithms are measuring people very rapidly, so they tend to pick up and amplify startle emotions over slower emotions like the building of trust or affection.

Interesting, and makes me think of Stardew Valley and its slow building of relationships between the player-character and the NPCs, relationships that have to be maintained. I also thought of the first example I was aware of, of the seemingly pointless exchange of tokens of approval in a social network, which I think was my friend Yoz creating something called “Sweeties” in Ning. And tangentially, of all the feminist sf utopias where there are barter based economies. Build in and opting into “slower” economies of attention could be possible – Excuse me while I go invent actual real life friendship, and the postal system – But seriously, I like this point and the only real answer to it may be to point this out to folks and for us all to seriously think about how we want to spend our time.

I am also thinking of my essay on culture clashes and the underlying assumptions of the trolls of the 00s with particular feminist communities. One assumes that showing that you are harmed is evidence you need to be harmed more in order to do you the favor of toughening you up. The other values its “hugbox” (a term used as a pejorative by the trolls) ie, its social contract to be supportive, kind, and to value the courage of vulnerability.

There is something to thinking “well, we SHOULD be alarmed and upset” about how things are – I think that is mistaking the early or middle phases of consciousness raising for a desirable steady state of being. It is normal in my view to have something of a breakdown as we try to integrate awareness of our participation in harmful, terrible or evil events and systems. As we see these truths we have to form some kind of narrative about what is happening and what we’re doing. That is where we’re at right now in public discourse – we are in a phase of rolling chaos and dis-integration.

Another article: This particle physics news was neat to see, as my ex partner used to work on these sorts of experiments (including AMANDA, the precursor to Ice Cube).

There is an open call for submissions to Cripple Punk Zine:

Our goal is to continue spreading radical disability acceptance to as many people as we can. We want to help raise disabled people’s self worth and self esteem, support disabled content creators, and create more spaces for disabled people to unapologetically be themselves. Every single disabled person deserves to feel empowered!

We are currently accepting submissions for the first issue, which will answer the question, “What is Cripple Punk?” and what cripple punk means to different people. The first issue should cover topics central to the cripple punk movement, like fighting ableism, embracing diversity, becoming empowered, and rejecting the roles mainstream society expects you to fit into.

I may write something and send it on.

I enjoyed this essay by Harry Giles (a rec from Sumana) on nurturing vs. shock in performance art.

Learning how to care for your audience is actually far more aesthetically interesting and politically disruptive than working out how to shock them.

This fits well with reading Lanier’s interview.

On shock and harm in art:

In each of these works, it is clear the people are actively harmed by the art, and this raises vital artistic and political questions. Who is it that is harmed, and why? Is it worth it? In Pussy Riot’s case, the punk gig offends worshippers and people who believe in a certain sanctity of the church space, who feel violated, but I would argue that in this case the violence is justified in the cause of attacking a patriarchy whose foundations rest in part on that very sanctity. But these are not easy arguments to make, and they are not artworks that I think can be taken or performed lightly.

I thought of myself and some of the activism I have done, for example, times I have been naked for a cause. Was my going shirtless at riot grrrl concerts or stripping down for a picture for body positivity with Nakedjen in various places a positive, transgressive act, or a rude, offensive, illegal, non consensual violation of other people’s space that possibly harmed someone? Is it different from Kavanaugh flashing Ramirez at a frat party and if so, how? My view here is that the potential harm is important to acknowledge, and that the expression, intention, exuberant joy, humor, etc. was worth the risk, and the context has to be considered.

thumbnail of two women

Reading Weeklypedia

Every week I read through the list of most updated Wikipedia articles, just out of curiosity. You can subscribe to Weeklypedia’s handy mailing list if you don’t have enough email or want to casually monitor trends in news and culture.

Most of the very active articles are related to sports, movies or TV shows, and military conflicts. And of course, any sort of natural disaster or extreme weather event. Sometimes, you can spot a group of friends or a Wikipedia editing party/workshop in the list of new articles. It’s interesting!

And there is neat metadata too. Last week, 40,167 registered users and 78,263 unregistered users made 814,642 edits to 361,740 articles.

I was riffling through this email last night during a bout of insomnia and thinking back to the fun times from running Wiki Wednesday events, and the creative things people would do with data from Wikimedia.

I want to recommend Weeklypedia here even if I don’t have any deep insights. It’s a nice additional source to reading the news, to know what people around the world are interested in at this moment, even if I’m mostly interested in the (rarer) political/military conflict articles. I found out about it from Mahmoud at the Free Bassel picnic in 2016 and have been reading it ever since.

A wild augmented reality appears!

As I went up the hill to get groceries today, from across the street I hollered “Well hey there! I see you’re catching a Pokémon!” to a guy in front of the Bernal Heights library. He barely even turned to look at me as I rolled up but he giggled and replied “Yep, lots of Zubats in this neighborhood!” Just a normal conversation between strangers apparently taking a photo of a blank wall of a public building!

I am level 4, I have an egg in the incubator and am all hot to get to the point where I can fight a Pokémon in my local Pokégym. Sorry but you will all have to get used to people talking like this. Welcome to the future.

As I have played Ingress for the past 3 years a bit obsessively I am very happy Niantic has this massive success. And also proud that some of my portals and photos and descriptions are integrated into Pokémon Go. I still prefer the elegance and game balance of Ingress, and the interesting social behaviors and structures that have evolved for it. (I can go to any city, and find Ingress portals and talk to its players; instant social group.) But I can see cool potential and the greater mass appeal of the new game built on the bones of Ingress data & infrastructure.

I know people will hate on this game for many reasons. It’s popular (yet dorky) for one. It will make people mad that others are doing something pointless. Its selfies will infuriate the grumpy people who hate the idea of self-portraits. People will inevitably walk into buses and off of cliffs and cause poké-stop-while-driving accidents. But I love this moment, the huge surge of cultural awareness as the game spreads. By tomorrow, people will start writing mainstream articles explaining the entire phenomenon or discussing why you should or shouldn’t let your kids play the game.

For me it is a beautiful and historic moment as it feels like a level up for mass participation in a virtual or augmented reality. This has plenty of potential for good and bad. It will spark people’s imaginations, even as it drives us further into ubiquitous surveillance of our location data and habits. Part of the cool thing is it creates a shared imaginary world and a geographic overlay to our real world. Combined with the powerful impulse we have to collect things and know trivia it will be a collective and somewhat guilty pleasure of people who have the money and privilege enough to have a lot of data bandwidth on their mobile devices. And who don’t mind handing even more of their data over to “the cloud”.

We can build strong memories and shared experiences that stay with us for years in game play. That will be enhanced by using the geography of the world around us!

Unlike the bohemian and esoteric pleasures of ARG-ing this is a swift popular movement of millions of people joining the game. It’s huge! I expect it to very rapidly become a placeholder or touchstone for people’s fears and dreams about technology. We will see a sort of mythos develop around it like the way you can see nuances and divisions in how people approach the idea of Minecraft. Something that they use as a container for the idea that young people these days, or whoever, aren’t properly politically engaged or doing the correct things or are sheep following pop culture; and/or an activity that is frightening, incomprehensible, t hat makes us vulnerable; and/or a social technology that could unlock something like the collaborative power of flash mobs.

The first attempt to make a game like this I am aware of was called “Pod” (annoyingly hard to Google) in the early/mid 90s. It was a small handheld device, like a tamagotchi gadget, on which you could collect parts to build little insectoid robots. In theory you would come across other Pod players in the real world at random and could trade parts in order to evolve your robo-insect things. I don’t remember how they communicated with each other. I only came across a random stranger to trade Pod pieces with once, in a mall in San Jose, after many months of carrying it around. The Pod was supposed to somehow be educational about the idea of Darwinian evolution! At the time this game was very exciting, but it didn’t pan out.

Anyway, we aren’t yet all walking around wearing dystopian headsets but I expect more AR overlays to come, maybe historical details so you can step through time on the map where you’re walking, maybe layers that are more artistically complex (though ludic complexity is also art!) or overtly political.

Mozilla's bug reporting, QA, and release processes

AdaCamp Portland was an amazing conference for feminist women in open source tech and culture. Not all, but many of the conference attendees are developers, system administrators, or do other technical work in open source software. I gave an informal talk meant to be an overview of some things I currently do at Mozilla. Lots of people came to the session! We all introduced ourselves going around the room.

To start off with, I showed a sample bug to talk about the process of reporting a bug, using Bugzilla, and practicing the skill of reading and understanding a bug report.

We looked first at Bug 926292.

Bugzilla couple

Let’s look at the life of this bug!

This bug was reported in October 2013 for Firefox 24 by someone new to bugzilla.mozilla.org. New users have basic permissions to file and comment on bugs. For around their first 25 bugs filed or commented on, they are marked “New to Bugzilla” to anyone with more permissions on the system. This helps more experienced users to know when they’re in conversation with people who are relatively new to the system. And, bugs reported by new users are automatically entered into Bugzilla with a status of “UNCONFIRMED”.

Our bug reporter was answered the same day by a community bug triager who used the “needinfo” checkbox to ask the bug reporter more questions. A bit later, in Comment 2, I was able to confirm the bug; I marked it NEW. Community members often jump in to do this from Bug Triage bug days, from our One and Done community taskboard, or because they watch the “Firefox::Untriaged” component. (Yes . . . you too can sign up to get email from Bugzilla every time a new bug is filed!)

Francesca Ciceri is currently working on bug triage and verification with our team as part of the GNOME-OPW internship program, doing similiar work to Tiziana Selitto who was an OPW intern last year! Both their blogs have good insights into what it’s like to approach QA in a huge and somewhat chaotic system like Mozilla’s.

In our example bug, I took a guess as to which product and component to add to the bug. This is like putting the bug into the right place where developers who work in a particular area will be likely to see it, and pay attention to it. I moved it from “Firefox” to “Core” and thought it may be something to do with the CSS Object Model. Picking the right product and component is tricky. Sometimes I look for similar bugs, to see what component they’re in. Sometimes I use Bugzilla’s Browse pages to skim or search through the descriptions of components for Firefox, Core, and Toolkit. Even after doing this for a year and a half, I get it wrong. Here, a developer moved the bug to what he thought was a better component for it, Core::Layout. (Developers also sometimes guess wrong, and keep passing a bug around to each others’ components like a hot potato.)

At this point a few developers explored the bug, and went back and forth with each other and the bug reporter about whether it had been fixed or not, exactly what the bug was, whether it is a Mac issue or a Firefox issue, and how to fix it. It was resolved as a duplicate of another bug in October, but the bug reporter came back to reopen it in February 2014. The bug reporter was polite but persistent in explaining their view, giving more details of the browser behavior, trying to find the bug in the very latest developer build (Nightly), giving a test case and comparing the behavior in different browsers. A developer submitted a patch, asked for code review. Related bugs were mentioned and linked. At least two new bugs were filed.

One important thing to note is that people working on QA and development tend to move very fluidly between using various Firefox versions. One of the best things you can do to get involved with helping out is to set up all four “channels” of Firefox with the capability to run them all at once with different profiles, and to start with new, clean profiles. In fact, we need better and more up to date documentation of how to do that on different operating systems, with screenshots! Here are some links that may help you set that up:
* http://www.callum-macdonald.com/about/faq/multiple-firefox-instances/
* https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Mozilla/Multiple_Firefox_Profiles
* https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/profile-manager-create-and-remove-firefox-profiles

OK, back to bug 926292!

Since I had worked on the bug and added myself to the cc field, I got bugmail about all these changes, and more or less followed a long. I often think that the collaboration that happens in bug fixing is very beautiful, and even fairly efficient!

In comment 29 you can see that code got committed to a mercurial repository, to “inbound”. From there, it goes through automated tests and is merged by one of the “sheriffs” into another hg repository, mozilla-central, where it will go into the next build of Nightly, which at that point in April, was Firefox 31.

Comment 30 suggests uplifting the patch to versions that will soon be released, to Aurora and Beta. Release managers started to get involved, commenting and asking the developers to formally nominate the bug for uplift.

At this point in my talk I explained a little bit about the “trains”.

Trains

The versions of Firefox under development advance on a 6 week cycle, from Nightly to Aurora to Beta to the main release of Firefox. In this rapid release schedule, Firefox 31 was Nightly, so Aurora was 30, 29 was Beta, and the release version most folks use was 28. The uplift request was refused so the patch “rode the train”. That means, if you were using Firefox 31 any time after the patch was merged into mozilla-central, you will see its effect. (It would also be fixed for Firefox 32 and 33 which are currently in use as Aurora and Nightly, since 31 is currently Beta.)

Our bug was marked “FIXED” when the patch was merged into mozilla-central. You can see near the end of its comments that I tagged the bug “verifyme” to put it into the queue of bugs that need verifying for Firefox 31. Many people see that list and work on verifying bugs including community members in our Bug Verification test days. I hope the story of this particular bug is over. I don’t have the number immediately to hand but I believe that over 1000 bugs are fixed for each version of Firefox over its release cycle. We can’t verify them all, but it’s amazing what we do get done as a team!

Other tools we looked at in my talk and the ensuing discussion:

Datazilla, which tests and measures Firefox performace: https://datazilla.mozilla.org/

Mozmill, a UI automation framework for Mozilla apps including Firefox and Thunderbird: https://github.com/mozilla/mozmill

Socorro, or crash-stats, where QA and other teams keep track of crashes in Firefox and other Mozilla products: https://crash-stats.mozilla.com

The ftp directories where Firefox builds and build candidates are stored: ftp://ftp.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla.org/firefox/candidates/

The mercurial repositories or “the tree”: http://hg.mozilla.org/

DXR, a nifty tool to search Mozilla’s code: http://dxr.mozilla.org/mozilla-central/source/

TBPL which shows the test results for every commit that’s merged into different branches https://tbpl.mozilla.org/

And a quick view into Mozilla’s Jenkins continuous integration dashboard which you can only see from our VPN, just to give an idea of the work we do when Firefox is in Beta. As a particular version of Firefox advances through rapid release, QA pays more attention to particular areas and uses different tools. We have to know a little bit about everything, be able to reproduce a user’s bug on many different possible platforms, figure out which developers may be able to fix a bug (or whose commit may have caused a regression or crash).

It was a lot to cover in an hour long talk! I wanted to pilot this informally as a test for doing a more formal talk with slides.

It represented fairly well that QA covers quite a lot of territory; it’s complicated and interesting work.

Journalists don't understand Wikipedia sometimes

This morning I saw some pissed-off twitters that led me to articles about Wikipedia’s sexist bias. Always up for a little early morning smash-the-patriarchy outrage, and well aware of some of the clusterfucks that often play out in Wikipedia admin pages, I forged onwards and read the articles, flaring my nostrils in anticipation. In Wikpedia’s sexism towards female novelists Amanda Filippachi points out that many women tagged with Category: American women novelists aren’t tagged with Category: American novelists. She named several examples. Katie Mcdonough from Salon picked up on this, with Wikipedia moves women to American Women Novelists Category Leaves Men in American Novelists.

Even the most cursory googling shows that this is not a very accurate spin. For example look at Amy Tan, Donna Tartt, and Harper Lee, who are named by Filippachi as missing from American novelists. Here is the Donna Tartt article’s history page going back the last 500 edits to 2004. Tartt was never listed as being in Category: American novelist, not because “Wikipedia is sexist” but because no one thought to put that down amid the hundreds of small edits that incrementally improved the article. Until today when someone added “American novelists” to her page, in virtuous activist response to injustice (which I respect, actually). “Category: American women novelists” was never on Tartt’s page.

Okay, how about Amy Tan. The last 500 edits for Amy Tan’s page go back to 2008. Category:American women novelists was not ever on Tan’s page, but American novelists was added today.

Harper Lee’s history, on the other hand, shows an edit on Feb. 21 removing American novelists and adding American women novelists. If you look at the user who made that edit, they often edit categories, and occasionally makes disputed judgement calls, but they appear to be acting alone and from the pattern of their edits, they do many types of edits in several areas, rather than waltzing around sexist-ly removing women from the category of generic human beings, or even novelists.

Just from these three samples, it does not seem that there is any particular movement among a group of Wikipedia editors to remove women from the “novelists” category and put them in a special women category instead. I would say that the general leaning, rather, is to stop people who would like to label women writers as women writers *in addition* to labeling them as writers, claiming there is no need for Category: American women writers at all and that it is evidence of bias to identify them by gender.

When I add writers to Wikpedia because I love their work or find their lives interesting and significant I often am unsure what the trends in categorization currently are. I may add them as Women writers and also American novelists based on looking at a similar writer’s article. If some of the potential categories aren’t there I hope someone will add them.

mmme_hardy on Twitter pointed out to me immediately that the discussion on this topic amongst Wikipedia editors takes place here: Categories for discussion. There is a proposal here to merge “Category:American women novelists” into “Category: American novelists”. The consensus there is to merge the articles, with some people (including me) mentioning the option to merge and keep the category. Merging the category would remove “Category: American women novelists” from many writers’ pages. That also means the page that lists all the pages in Category: American women novelists would no longer exist.

Thus, a well-meaning attempt to include women in the main categorization for American novelists (where many of them were never listed in the first place) may result in women writers no longer being easily identifiable to those who might want to find them. For example if you are looking for Caribbean women writers and they have all been merged into Caribbean writers that might not be a desirable outcome! Filippache mentionsEdwige Danticat being ‘plucked from “Haitian Novelists” and dumped into “Haitian Women Novelists.”’ But I don’t see that plucking happening from the history! Where did that happen!?

Joanna Russ in How to Suppress Women’s Writing lists miscategorization as one of the ways that women’s work is disappeared over time. In this case I am a bit annoyed at the facile reporting that does not seem to take into account the complexity of how information gets added to Wikipedia. If someone can point me to a Category decision from the past where a bunch of editors agreed to remove women en masse from American novelists and put them in American women novelists, go for it, I would appreciate the help in understanding this.

It is much more often the reverse and it would not be too hard to come up with examples — where someone works rather hard on creating a category for Women activists or American anarchist women and then a bunch of other (often male!) editors step in and say that that is sexist and unnecessary and “ghettoizing”. What would be so hard… or so wrong… about listing writers or other people by gender, race, ethnicity or other factor that people who care about identities and identification may want to browse by? Librarians certainly catalogue writers and works that way, and it is extremely useful! I think that the backlash against identity politics is evident here. Yes Wikipedia editors and admins often have systemic bias. In this case the story has been told in an inaccurate way (that I don’t even have time to debunk thoroughly — I am neglecting my day job right now to write this!) and in a way that both discredits reports of actual systemic and individual bias and that harms the visibility of women writers while trying to help that visibility. The sexist thing we should be up in arms about isn’t labelling women as women! It’s the efforts to delete entire categories (like Haitian women writers, for example) because someone has decided that that meta-information is unnecessary “ghettoization”…. the false belief that we should or can be “gender-blind”, “color-blind”, and so on.