February 20, 2008

New York Talk Exchange

Category: Mapping,New York,Tech — Biella @ 3:31 pm

They say seeing is believing and well here is some cool Internet data to feast your eyes on:

New York Talk Exchange illustrates the global exchange of information in real time by visualizing volumes of long distance telephone and IP (Internet Protocol) data flowing between New York and cities around the world.

The Best of Google Videos

Category: Documentaries,Tech — Biella @ 12:43 pm

The Best of Google Videos (at least according to one person). They all seem pretty good and many are pretty geeky too.

February 17, 2008

On ARPA’s 50th Anniversary

Category: Arpanet,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 3:50 pm

ARPA just turned 50 and Ronda Hauben, long time author on the politics and culture of the net, has written a nice reflective piece on the significance of the organization of ARPA. Challenging the idea that military roots had dug into the organizational logic of the ARPA institution and especially the ARPAnet, she instead provides the following narrative:

The organizational structure of ARPA made possible the creation of the
computer science research office within ARPA begun by Licklider. That
office has demonstrated the importance of the support for basic
research in the field of computer science. The IPTO supported a
general area of research, one with a far reaching impact. The
achievements of this research office were not specific defense related
applications, nor were the goals narrowly aimed at defense specific
applications. If this reality is not recognized, however, it is
possible to mistakenly attribute significant computer science
achievements to defense specific objectives.

A common and widespread myth exists that the Internet has grown out of
a defense specific objective, i.e. from the goal to create a computer
network that could survive a nuclear war. This is a striking example
of how a false narrative can spread and gain public credence.

This false narrative finds its roots in the failure to understand that
ARPA was not an agency created for defense specific applications, but
to support the basic research which would lead to new concepts and

The HealthCare Issue (with something on OLPC)

Category: Health,Insurance,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 1:45 pm

I have not heard of them until last week but I like their name, Frog Design, and they have an issue dedicated to Health Care including an intriguing article The Paradox of Choice
A capitalist case for universal health care.
For those just into tech, they also have a piece by OLPC.

February 13, 2008

Health Care Probes

Category: Insurance — Biella @ 6:06 pm

This is just one problem with a profit logic ruling our health care. It is good to see this investigation start but it feels a little like a kitten fighting a 100 pound gorilla. A little to little and too late.

Pace yourself

Category: Coffee — Biella @ 7:57 am

Drinking caffeine slowly and in low doses may get your further.

February 11, 2008

From coast to coast

Category: Music,New York — Biella @ 8:37 am

One of my favorite radio stations, KEXP, based in Seattle is coming to NYC by parenting with a local station. Not much will change except that we will have the incredible John in the Morning for some of his time and he will, according to their website, scout out local talent:

Does this mean that John in the Morning is leaving Seattle?
No. Starting in June 2008, John will split time between Seattle and New York, broadcasting his show live from both locations throughout the year. While he’s in New York, he’ll be searching for new bands and discovering new music that The Morning Show listeners will be the first to hear.

Reviewing code

Category: Academic,Geekitude,Hackers,Humor,Tech — Biella @ 4:19 am

The politics and language of judging code.

And speaking of peer review, Scott and Samir of Decoding Liberation have posted a blog post about the problems of peer review in the sciences, making some good points and opening what I hope will be an on-going discussion. I have a lot to add from the perspective of the social sciences and humanities, but that will have to wait for another day.

February 10, 2008

The resurrection of an older war

Category: Politics,Tech — Biella @ 7:11 pm

The problem with the Internet is that it never goes to sleep. And if you study the Internet as I do, that means spending a lot of time starting at the screen tagging, copying, pasting, downloading, watching, and assessing. I have taken a step or two back away as I have moved from life as a postdoc to working full time but ever since Anonymous declared war on Scientology last month, I have been spending more time online again (more than I want to at least), tracking and following some of their developments, including spending time on some of their IRC channels, downloading lots and lots of videos as well as all sorts of great flyers.

Well today there was an IRL action loosely coordinated by Anonymous to protest the CoS and I have to say, I am simultaneously surprised and unsurprised at what I think was a pretty vigorous response and turnout.

I was not too surprised as the attack against and criticism of Scientology is one of the older wars spurred on in part by the net and net ethics and it always seems to crop of from time to time. But I think the depth of smack talking I witnessed on IRC, (often clearly youthful in nature as this example reveals—>, [mizzanon] I will have my full license in approx. 3-4 weeks, as soon as I do, i will be driving around my entire region with tons of
anti-propaganda) led me to believe that they could not pull of this global day of action. But they did and perhaps with the exception of New Zealand (where there are probably better things to do anyway), they seemed to garner a fair bit of participants.

It will be interesting to see how long they will continue to generate this type of support. The next day of action will be around the middle of March.

February 7, 2008

On Confidence, Geekdom, and Desire

Category: F/OSS,Geekitude,Gender,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 6:22 am

So a few folks left some interesting comments in response to my link to the article on the rise of the alpha-girl based on the research of Harvard psychologist, Dan Kindlon. My response to both Joe and Karl is that it is worthy to lower the barriers to entry not because girls will change the cultural ecology of geekdom in positive ways (though they may) or because geekdom is inherently “omg totally awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” but for a much more mundane reason: it may allow girls to follow interests and eventually discover a passion. I think it is a great idea if more women were involved in geekdom and open source development not because it is inherently great but because I am sure there a lot of women out there who would enjoy it (and by extension, I am sure a lot who would not). By highlighting this article I am not advocating some forced hacker-female-labor-migration-policy but pointing to the fact that social conditions outside of geekdom play a role in ensuring more participation among women. But let me explain a few things before I argue my position a little further.

First a little clarification, especially now that I have read the article. By “alpha” the author does not mean dominant, aggressive, and totally jerky, which is what might immediately come to mind when you read/hear alpha (especially if one knows any alpha-geeks or alpha-lawyers for that matter, who are much worse, imho). And I certainly don’t want any more alpha-anything (alpha-women, alpha-dogs, alpha-cats, alpha-hamsters ) given our world is already chock-full of alpha-jerks. By using the term, the author basically means confidence, which apparently is on the rise among girls, leaving them much more likely to be go-getters, undaunted by explicit and implicit barriers and obstacles and thus more likely then ever to enter arenas that have been thought of as traditionally male or in fact totally dominated by males. If this trend is indeed in place, I think it is great and I hope that this eventually translates into more girls/women populating traditionally male areas whether it is neurology, movie directing, hacking, or surfing.

What I appreciate about the article is that his research can help us question the idea that women are naturally averse to competition due to their estrogenic hormones while boys, brimming with testosterone, just love it and exude it. I never identified with that conventional well-worn script, in part because I guess I am fairly confident and somewhat competitive. Being in academia for the last 10 years, I have witnessed a lot of really confident women that have helped inspire me and keep me going, especially when times got rough.

What is fascinating about the article (and by extension probably his book) is that gender parity and equity and changes in the psychological makeup of women have not changed overnight but have taken a much longer time to settle in place. We are only now bearing the fruits of structural and educational changes first instituted decades ago and that tackled some serious forms of discrimination. As a result, we are seeing girls and women donning a deeper confidence that may help them participate with more success in the arenas they want to whether it be sports or in the workplaces (though there are certainly still major barriers and issues, which are addressed in the article).

So why would someone want to participate in the world of free software and hacking in particular? My first answer is there may be any number of reasons why anyone, female or male or transgender or whatever, may want to do so—for the love of technology, to feel an intense belonging to a community who share your passions and who work together to create something with a lot of value, to enjoy the challenge of learning, to spread freedom to every corner of the earth, etc… It is not that geekdom is inherently fun and exciting but that it will be interesting to some slice of the population—men or women (or other)—and what is the harm in lowering the barriers to entry, especially if it brings enjoyment and frankly a lot of economic security too?

There are a number of girls/women who already find it worthwhile and I am sure many more who would. And the point is not to create some “policy” to make sure that we shuttle women into hackerdom but as a society we should equip them with the necessary psychological tools so that if they think this is worthwhile, and discover that they love it, etc, they will dare to venture in there and more importantly, stay if they want to.

In terms of Karls point that “a lot of people are professional geeks in part because they’d have trouble being anything else; like being gay, it’s not a “choice,” I think that is far too narrow of an assessment, not to mention an outdated caricature of geeks. While there is certainly a class of socially awkward geeks (if that is what you mean??), I would say they are in the minority though they may certainly stand out precisely because they are the odd ducks and because the stereotype is so entrenched. Many geeks I have met, while they may pretty darn focused on geekdom, also have full and rich lives/personalities that cannot be easily collapsed into one immutable personality type. Yes they may be obsessed with tech but aren’t doctors, academics, musicians, lawyers sort of fanatical too? I spend like my whole week working on academic stuff (part of necessity, part out of love). And at least hacking has way better conferences and economic perks, which may help explain why people stay :-)

Finally, I think you assume a little to strongly that we do what we do because we have a pre-formed existing desired to do so. While I think this is the case for many things (and I knew the minute I learned about anthropology, I wanted to be one, which was odd but it proved to be correct), I think desire is also formed as much through experience and hence the importance of exposure to different worlds and experiences. I know that there are many things I could have never imagined I would have loved–karoake and sailing are two things that come to mind—until I tried them about both took some degree of courage. In the later case, it took a lot of guts to move onto some ship at the age of 18 instead of going to college and I am so glad I did. This is an instance where confidence and an initial curiosity led to discovering a love and passion I never knew I had. So if desire can be formed and not just expressed, I think it is key to make sure people have all sorts of opportunities to cultivate the passions they never knew they had.