inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #26 of 74: Ellen Ullman (ullman) Thu 19 Oct 17 13:19
    
Jon, I agree with Molly Crockett's overall assessment. In the book,
in conversations, interviews, at events, I keep stressing the need
for us to get off that damn internet, to look back and take guidance
from the past. I tell young women, Please look at the woman's
movement of the 1970s and how much it achieved, the social issues it
raised: day care, women entering previously closed professional
positions, equal funding for women's sports,raising the issue of
equal pay (sadly still with us), harassment (ditto). Also for them
to look at how the movement splintered over class and race and
ethnic origins -- identity politics. Most of all, how all of it is
under threat, being dismantled.

As in my reply to Ari above, the way forward is in forming political
groups that can endure failure and setbacks -- and keep going. In
Boom Two, I wrote about how hard that is. The contentious meetings,
the clash of need against need. 

All through, I remember my lesson about the limitations of social
change through machines and code. Code works when strong political
groups take the code into their own hands, programs created from the
ground up. Not from "change the world" non-profits in their
transparent offices in WeWork, who see a problem from above, and
think: Ah! My app will solve it! 
 
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #27 of 74: Ellen Ullman (ullman) Thu 19 Oct 17 13:28
    
Yes, I've been in contact with Women Who Code. I've gone to their
meet-ups, as well as meetups from "Girls who code in San Francisco,
and others all around town.

They do draw women in. Organizations like WWO do bring about change.
The quality of the teaching varies. My biggest problem with all the
online organizations is geographic prejudices. I looked for
technical meetups in small cities across the US, and found virtually
none. There are thousands of meet-ups in the Bay Area, one in the
Bronx.

The best use of these organizations and online courses is to expose
women to coding -- so they can see if they like it! Women will face
fierce prejudice once they are inside the coding culture. And what
can sustain them is they know they love the work, are good at it,
and no one will drive me away. As for anyone, they need to tack into
who drew them to coding in the first place.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #28 of 74: Ari Davidow (ari) Thu 19 Oct 17 14:08
    
I'm still only halfway through the book, but if I understand what
you are saying, Ellen, you are talking about the need for those of
us online, and in particular, programmers, to spend the time outside
of our code workspaces and focus on basic community organizing?
Beyond the obvious (criminal justice reform, housing, basic
education) there are specific areas of concern (hate and harassment
online, starting with racist and misogynist varieties of same),
personal privacy, and so on (just picking a couple of examples at
the end of the day, too tired to scroll back through the
discussion)?

This would be different from also applying computer-specific skills
in something like "Code for America" (or a local affiliate such as
"Code for Boston") where IT folks meet with various government
organizations, from schools to legal aid to whatever, to see where
an app or some education could solve a problem. (At least in my
limited experience at Code for Boston, it seems to be a relatively
welcoming group of people, providing encouragement to people coming
in from underserved neighborhoods, women, new immigrants, etc.)
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #29 of 74: Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Thu 19 Oct 17 22:14
    
Facebook's moderation mechanisms aren't a big ball of algorithms,
unless they've been changed very recently. A few years ago women I
knew told me that when they were politically outspoken on Facebook
they'd find themselves banned for having violated community
standards and thus Facebook's terms of service, because their posts
were flagged many times as being objectionable. Their appeals of
this banishment were usually denied. I asked a friend who is a
senior Facebook employee about this. He told me that the policies
are enforced by very junior employees or contract employees in
boiler rooms in India.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #30 of 74: Kathy L. Dalton (kd) Fri 20 Oct 17 06:22
    
Yes, look what has just happened to Deborah Copaken, suspended for a
#metoo posting on f-book for posting photos of men who harassed her
because one of her assailants flashed her & she photographed him in
the act. 

cite: 
https://medium.com/@dcopaken/sunday-night-like-so-many-other-women-i-created-a
-metoo-post-65574472c33e 
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #31 of 74: Craig Maudlin (clm) Fri 20 Oct 17 07:53
    
> Facebook's moderation mechanisms aren't a big ball of algorithms,
> unless they've been changed very recently.

I think Ellen's point about 'agency' is the better way to think about
it.

The problem with talking about 'algorithms' is that everyday usage has
drifted so far as to exclude humans as performers. We know better.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #32 of 74: J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Fri 20 Oct 17 10:57
    
Regarding overcoming geographic prejudices:

There is currently: Rise of The Rest https://www.riseofrest.com/tour/
admittedly run by a White Man (Steve Case) which is trying to bring startup
attention and money to cities that are NOT SF, Boston, etc. earlier this
month they did Central, PA; Ann Arbor, MI; Indianapolis, IN; Columbus, OH;
and Green Bay, WI

A drop in the bucket yes, but something and maybe a model to take further:
Those of us in the bubble can send money and spend time to help bring up
populations outside the bubble.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #33 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 20 Oct 17 12:16
    
How can technologists, coders, "geeks" become effectively,
politically active? I keep thinking we should have more engineers
and developers running for public office, but in another sense I
can't imagine it.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #34 of 74: Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Fri 20 Oct 17 12:32
    
Regarding agency and algorithms:

We should be thinking of the unmanageable flow of propaganda in
terms of the tragedy of the commons. The hugely profitable Internet
companies became so big by building systems that could scale way
beyond what could be supported by direct human activities. Fake news
and algorithmic harassment by users are externalities that they'd
prefer to ignore.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #35 of 74: Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 20 Oct 17 12:42
    
Technologists, coders, and other "geeks" are also members of their
communities (usually members of several overlapping communities). I
have a friend from O'Reilly Publishing I run into regularly at
organizing events. And there are celebrity geeks who =are= already
visible politically, from Peter Thiele on across and down. Has
nothing to do with technology and everything to do with citizenship.
This is one of the small things.

A bigger thing is to work on ways to enlarge to pool of people who
go into technology--end, or at least lower the misogyny and racism
that are endemic in the industry. We can start by making it
unacceptable to express the virulent spewing that hits unpopular
posts, especially those by women who try to call out bad practices
and bad actors.

And, of course, we still need to fight some of the traditional, and
still unwon battles for personal privacy and cetera.

Happily there are are growing phalanx of organizations to address
these an related issues. They all need lots of support.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #36 of 74: Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Fri 20 Oct 17 12:57
    
There are many different ways to look at how geeks can get involved
in politics. The traditional ways are with advocacy organizations
like CPSR and Verified Voting, and with direct action like
volunteering to improve the data analysis that informs political
campaigns the geek supports, or signing on with the US Digital
Service to fix the ACA exchanges or with 18F to improve the ways all
government agencies use computer technology.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #37 of 74: Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 20 Oct 17 13:08
    
I'm also big on techies doing non-techie advocacy--anything from
attending hearings to helping out at food kitchens. We don't need to
be one-dimensional in our advocacy any more than we are
one-dimensional as humans.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #38 of 74: Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Fri 20 Oct 17 13:14
    
Another way to think about geeks and politics shows up in
"Programming for the Millions". Prof. Roughgarden's comment about
writing faster code to enable your startup's success speaks as much
about his sources of funding as it does about his intended audience.

The US government used to fund much of the science done in American
universities. Computer scientists received their grants through
programs like (D)ARPA, In-Q-Tel (funded by the CIA), and NIST (for
encryption and security).

I thought it was great that the government was funding technology
that would enable fast worldwide communication, information trading,
and access to all the world's knowledge. Later on it became more
obvious that the Internet concentrated the flow of our
communications and made it broad-scope surveillance more practical.
The loudest wake-up call was the revelation that AT&T was providing
a tap for use by three-letter agencies. While we were figuring this
out the government was scaling back their support for science and
scientists and technologists looked more to corporate donations and
partnerships for their funding.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #39 of 74: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 20 Oct 17 14:47
    
Sorry I'm late to this, busy daze.

Ellen, a privilege....all participants, wow, what a thread and just
getting started.

I come in from a 70's - now geekdom....am a systems integrator when
I want to work, which is rarely, cuz "homey don't play dat",
anymore!!!

It's the anymore part that kills me, why, in spite of knowing how
the 60's rolled out it would not be any different this time....but
we that are positivists, always start out that way....

What was the turning point for you Ellen, and when did you start
"thinking" about alternative approaches, and, then, what did you
first DO about it.....

I have abandoned all hope of saving the current 'state of affairs,
will not participate, but am willing to let in crumble on its own -
no need for anarchist here,,,,it falls no matter what!!f

Meanwhile, I network, and carry on :)
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #40 of 74: J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Tue 24 Oct 17 07:55
    
Ellen: A question in a somewhat different direction:

What are your thoughts about the use of modern digital distribution
channels for written work? electronic books, blogs, etc. Is this something
youi have ever been tempted towards as a writer? And as a writer what are
the procs and cons of traditional publishing channels vs the new ones?
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #41 of 74: Ellen Ullman (ullman) Wed 25 Oct 17 09:48
    
These days any and all books from traditional publishers appear in
ebook and audio book at the same time as the hardback. (One note:
They convinced me to do the audio book, which was a grueling
process. Reading 100 pages a day in a small, hot booth. I can't
bring myself to listen to it.) I'm happy for these simultaneous
publishing outlets. Many of the younger people I meet go directly to
the ebook. Of course, there's less $$ in it for the publisher. I do
feel a duty to them to help sell the book. I've battled with my
editor, but overall FSG has been good to me. Their big writers carry
us small ones.

I have been tempted to start a blog, but writing a book keeps me
tied to the keyboard and the computer, and how much more of that can
I stand? Right now, I'm glad to get the word out at events and
interviews, and don't feel the pull on my publishing online.
Frankly, I'm not sure what direction I'll go now as a writer, or
even if I want to write another book. I need to have new thoughts,
and blogging about technology and the society it's creating will
keep me tied to one subject.

I'm glad that writers are finding those other outlets. I'm not drawn
to reading self-published online books (I can't even make a good
dent in the hardcovers piled up!) but I know millions are. I think
online self-publishing can be a platform for creative works; I also
think they further narcissism. Both and.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #42 of 74: Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 25 Oct 17 11:27
    
If you aren't writing, and (still true?) no longer programming, what
are the things that motivate you most these days?
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #43 of 74: Ellen Ullman (ullman) Wed 25 Oct 17 11:38
    
I am still in the exhausting process of book-selling and book tours.
I only feel: When will I have time to find out what will motivate me
next? Seems that will come about mid-December. 

My current thought is that it's time I finally became fluent in
Spanish. I'm thinking of staying somewhere in Latin America for some
months -- alone, so I can't talk English. I'd love to live in
Madrid, but the Spanish is so different from the one I learned.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #44 of 74: Ellen Ullman (ullman) Wed 25 Oct 17 11:46
    
I learned today the one of the doyenne department stores of NYC
Fifth Avenue, Lord&Taylor, has been sold. It will occupy 1/4th of
the elegant building. The other 3/4th will be occupied by... WeWork.

I know L&T has been struggling, like all classic retailers. And its
merchandise has been trending down in quality. Still, I know I'm
watching the slow death of my beloved Manhattan. Already
disappearing: yellow cabs. It's hard to think of Manhattan without
its iconic yellow taxis.

I know this change must come. Nevertheless, it is always worthwhile
to look back and see what will be lost. This is more than nostalgia.
As I hope the book made clear: the past holds lessons about how to
live now.

And to WeWork (the devil):
I wonder if readers noticed my take on (take-down) of WeWork. The
obnoxious slogans: Do what you love. If you don't like your job,
create one. Change the world!

As if any of that could be done by the majority of human beings on
earth.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #45 of 74: Pamela McCorduck (pamela) Wed 25 Oct 17 18:35
    
Really, as if. For most humans on the planet, work is a day-to-day
struggle.

Ellen, I haven't yet read your book, but I see we share some of the
same ambivalences about technology. 

I was introduced to artificial intelligence within weeks of hearing
C. P. Snow present his Two Cultures lecture at Berkeley (the autumn
of 1960). These two themes shaped my life, but I certainly didn't
make the connection then or for a long time.

As I work on a memoir about those early days in AI, I realize how
strangely naive I was in the early days (I mean, I was a LITERATURE
major!). How did I imagine that computing in general and AI in
particular would escape the things that are eternal in human nature?
Cupidity, will to power, nastiness, the whole ball of wax?

I joined the WELL around 1989, my first experience with interactive
computing. All I could think of was the joy of finishing a thought
without some guy interrupting me. It was fabulous. First time in my
life. Who wouldn't be optimistic about such a thing? 

And then came the trolls, whom I should have anticipated, but
didn't. 

So much I didn't anticipate, because I failed to see how human this
whole project is.

Ellen, this has been too much about me and not your book. Scurrying
off to begin now.

Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #46 of 74: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 25 Oct 17 22:21
    
Thinking of a line in the book: "Robots aren't becoming us, I
feared; we are becoming them." I hear more and more about robots
lately, but I don't have a clear sense how the cyborganic
transformation is proceeding. I hear that bots are replacing human
workers and I wonder how true that is, or whether it's uninformed
speculation. I hear that self driving cars are a thing, but I don't
see them on the roads, and I'm skeptical so far whether we will have
cars, buses, and trucks without drivers.

What are you seeing?
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #47 of 74: Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Wed 25 Oct 17 22:31
    
In her "Weapons of Math Destruction", Cathy O'Neil uses many war
stories to illustrate the ways that Big Data analysts choose data
items they can see as proxies for what's going on in peoples' lives,
and these data replace the real things for the analysts and for the
people who read their analyses. Is this part of the way "we are
becoming them"?
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #48 of 74: Ellen Ullman (ullman) Thu 26 Oct 17 16:33
    
Pamela,
I was an English major. As you'll see in the book, it was my Honors
Thesis on Macbeth (unraveling the time sequence) that gave me
courage to write Basic code (a language famous for producing
"spaghetti code").

We will have self-driving cars, Jon, but not soon on a mass basis.
They require and entire infrastructure around them, fresh lane
markers, for instance; cities and towns supplying real-time data on
road work, changes, etc. Where will the money come from for that?
(Oh yes, Trump promised us that.) I try to imagine my dear NYC
having the funds for new infrastructures, when it battles to keep a
100-year-old subway running for 8 million people 24/7.

AND there is the real problem of getting cars to communicate. The
road will not be filled with cookie-cutter Priases. Car makers will
still want to distinguish their brands, the cars' handling
characteristics. Even leaving aside the hackability of wireless
car-to-car communications, the cars of various makers will have to
communicate through a standard application program interface, and
APIs are notorious fracture points for systems.

btw, the algorithms for driverless cars are not trying to duplicate
the best of what good human drivers can teach them. Humans are poor
fallible creatures, is the assumption (uh, unlike software that
crashes?). The code will therefore eliminate our 100-year-plus
experiences with automobiles. We don't just follow rules and stay in
our lanes. We *read* other cars and their drivers. We see beyond the
vehicles immediately around us. You can just *know* when a car is
going to cut you off! Human agency explicitly is not the point.

In answer to your question, Karish: Yes.
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #49 of 74: Jerome Woody (jwoody) Thu 26 Oct 17 22:24
    
Ellen thanks for participating in this conference. I just ordered
'Close to the Machine' and plan on reading your newest book
afterward (I feel that reading order is the best way to go as
someone new to your work).

Although demographers aren't at a consensus on when the millennial
generation begins (things get hazy for those of us born in 1980 for
example), I consider myself part of that generation, if not an elder
member.

With that said, I'm curious about what advice/insight/words of
wisdom do you have for millennials who have lived in this connected
world most of their lives? Do you think there is still a need for
new voices when it comes to writing about technology, especially
those in marginalized groups (e.g, POC voices, queer voices), and do
you think those voices would have a shot at being even heard in the
current climate? 
  
inkwell.vue.499 : Ellen Ullman, Life in Code
permalink #50 of 74: Ellen Ullman (ullman) Fri 27 Oct 17 11:21
    
At events, I'm always surprised when younger people (your generation
and younger -- I mean girls) ask me for advice. In my case, I ran
for the hills (actually San Francisco) to get away from parental
guidance.

As I think you'll see by the end of LIFE IN CODE, I urge them to
look back and see how we got here concerning technology. What is
happening is recent but not new. 

Keep a sense of wonder balanced by skepticism.

In sum, it's their turn now.
  

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