September 2019

Dan Sinker has launched “a quick snapshot of what’s happening now in impeachment news” you can get on the web and via email, if you’ve been having trouble keeping up, or just want to avoid constantly refreshing the news and checking your social feeds.

Dan Kaminsky wants you to believe that Richard Stallman merely is “weird” (read: “on the spectrum”), wondering why you won’t think of the children who fear that because Stallman is “weird” like them, theirs is destined to be a future of being canceled.

He can fuck right off with this shit.

As I’ve repeatedly written, autism is not an excuse for despicable behavior, and I can’t even begin to express the levels of anger I experienced when Kaminsky dared to bring the name of Greta Thunberg into it.

What should we say to “weird” kids watching the Stallman situation? We should tell them not to be an apologist for abuse, pedophilia, or rape, and they’ll be okay. The same thing we should be telling any kids.

Stallman is not under siege because he’s on the spectrum, which is the charge Kaminsky is trying to support by mentioning Thunberg, who has been. He’s rightfully under siege because he’s openly held bizarre beliefs about the sexual abuse of children, and credibly is accused of his own abusive and harassing behavior.

(Browsing this discussion on Twitter, I found via William Pietri a wonderfully apt description of “Schrödinger’s Autist, who only ever comes out in internet discussions when men are being shitty to women, as if autism and misogyny are co-morbid”.)

For someone with a top job at a company whose slogan is “Keep it Human”, Kaminsky seems to afford more humanity to abusers (and himself abuses Thunberg’s name) than to the people hurt by them.

Autism is not anyone’s god damned shield.

If two-hundred or so people were to buy me a coffee for my 50th birthday, I could take great iPhone 11 Pro photos like the rest of you instead of fighting the single-camera XR I cant afford to upgrade because my Sprint lease has another year on it.

For those of you on Mastodon, you can’t follow my blog there yet. Back when I was testing out various blogging platforms, I had an earlier domain tied to my account, and it still has that domain, not this one, as part of its ActivityPub username.

Companies are beginning to use facial recognition technology in job interviews and for god’s sake can we stop “disrupting” things with technology that don’t need to be disrupted? As pointed out on Twitter this effectively is a new phrenology.

In a world where we keep having light and motion sensors that can’t detect the skin of black people, a world where, say, autistic people might not have the same “language, tone and facial expressions” as neurotypicals, it’s absolutely untrue that algorithms somehow are “free of human bias”, since they are written by humans with biases.

If the algorithm in question compares the “language, tone and facial expressions” to those of successful employees, it’s just going to loop through the same types of people hired before the algorithm was involved, reinforcing whatever human biases already existed in the hiring system.

This sort of thing will just be used to let human decision-makers off the hook for biases. The algorithm did it, so it must be fair. No, none of this.

On the matter of references, my “highlights” posts now include a “via” in the citation if I found the link in question through a third-party rather than, say, a source’s own website or newsletter or social feed; the places where I find some of these links might be of as much interest as the links themselves, and also fair is fair.

CJ Eller poses an interesting set of questions about “notifications and whether they are needed all of the time”.

To what degree should we desire that the software notify us that someone’s replied to us, or referenced something we wrote, versus to what degree should we allow either serendipity or having someone personally reach out to us to let us know? I wonder sometimes, just from the personal experience of my own subjective brain, whether immediate and automatic notification carries the risk of falling down a rabbit hole of “needing” to respond.

Is there a middle ground? Could we build mediating software which takes our notifications for us and then gives us, say, a daily or weekly digest? Something somewhat akin to a new Technorati, which accepts and collates our webmentions (or whatever) for us and then we can browse through in a more leisurely, less in-the-moment manner.

It’s the question, again, of friction. How much do we need to know in real-time, and how much can we afford to wait to see?

Fulton Mall’s success offers clues as to why only two dozen of 200 pedestrian malls remain from the boom a half century ago. The future of the pedestrian mall is not in trying to save downtown merchants by bringing new shoppers in, but in improving the experience for the shoppers who are already there. To start with, this means not disdaining the people spending money, especially when downtown stores historically served a broad racial and economic spectrum.

As always with urban design, there are multiple social, economic, and design factors at play in the success of shopping districts, which is why raising pedestrian malls as a boogeyman doesn’t make sense in the first place. But three factors stand out: foot traffic, anything-but-car access, and amenities beyond retail.

From Who’s afraid of the pedestrian mall? by Alexandra Lange (Via Andrew Small)

“People who read their books often discover they don’t like the main character, and are rarely happy with how it ends.”

The Magicians, “Homecoming”

It’s very confusing that this Journal of Communication study (via Tim Chambers) on the effect of Twitter’s expansion from 140 characters to 280 claims both that the change “increased the prevalence of less uncivil, more formal and more constructive messages” and “decrease[d] … the empathy and respectfulness of messages”. How do conversations simultaneously become both more civil and yet less respectful?

(I’m sort of setting aside for the moment the whole thing where civility is used a cudgel against the voices of people from marginalized or ignored groups, and the fact that therefore conversations can be simultaneously more civil and yet less repectful, because I don’t think that’s actually addressed as a dynamic in this paper.)

“Uncivil behavior,” the authors explain, “was measured in terms of the use of name-calling, profanity, hate speech or invocation of stereotypes of a homophobic, racist, sexist or xenophobic nature.” Empathy (and respect), they write, “[r]eflects the author’s acknowledgment of or sensitivity to others, manifested in positive comments, an empathetic or a respectful response acknowledging other viewpoints”.

While Twitter’s implementation of a character limit change to double the length of tweets led to less uncivil political discussions and more deliberative political discussions, it also decreased empathy and respect among the discussants. These results highlight the importance of the careful design of discussion forums for the quality of political discussion.


[…] While the character limit improved overall civility in political discussion, the decrease in empathy and respect among compliers is a cause for concern. That is to say, while people were more polite after the character limit change, they were less likely to be empathetic or respectful to other people’s comments.

Somehow, the authors found that the increase in characters led to a decrease in abusive language but also a decrease in sensitivity to others, which is baffling to me, and even having read the entire paper I can’t seem to find (or maybe understand) an explanation for the how or the why of this.

It’s interesting that a study four years ago which found that most healthcare professionals “don’t have the training needed to care for adults with autism” was a survey of Kaiser Permanente “doctors, nurses and social workers”, given that my current primary care physician at Kaiser today in 2019 has been very responsive and without prompting used the term “neurodiverse” in my first office visit. That said, yes, there still are some Kaiser personnel who are not up to speed.

I feel like this advice from Derek Sivers makes sense in conversation but not, say, when writing, which makes it all the weirder that he specifically cites being annoyed when books do it. We reference sources because Sivers’ suggestion that “if I hear an idea, have considered it, and integrated it into my beliefs, it’s mine” might be true to a degree but not to the degree that you can give the impression that it just sort of popped into your own head one day. It’s one thing that we naturally absorb ideas and incorporate them into how we view the world around us without realizing. It’s entirely another thing to be consciously aware of one’s sources and just sort of decide they don’t matter unless someone asks.

It’s safe to say that Om Malik has a very different view of midlife birthdays than I do, spending them as “a day being reminded … of what you have, instead of focusing on what you don’t”. That’s probably easier with a reported net worth of $50 million.