The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

This War Of Mine, a new game game by Grzegorz Miechowski. examines war from the viewpoint of the people caught in the middle. It’s set in a world like WW2 Warsaw, a half-ruined city in which desperate civilians scramble for food, shelter, for anything that can help them manage a few more days.

This War Of Mine

This might have been a simple romp or a power fantasy, but it’s not. You start in a house with three guys, each with distinct personality and talents. New helpers can arrive with their own talents, and those talents are realistically useful or otherwise. I’ve had a mathematician and a high school principal – splendid folks and good company, but these are not the skills we chiefly need right now. Choices have consequences and the consequences are deep: you can steal stuff, but it makes you feel pretty awful; you can hide from the armed gangs who are threatening people who have nothing to do with you, but you’ll always wonder if there was something you should have done.

Onboarding is not this game’s strength. To preserve the morality of the game, it’s hard to save your progress, to back up and erase your mistakes. That’s perhaps the right answer, but it makes things less fun.

Perhaps that’s part of the point.

Revolution 60 by Brianna Wu is an intriguing hyperfiction performed as an animated film. A tactical team of four (very talented) operatives have been called in to deal with a hijacked space station, working in the service of a AI overseer. Holiday, the player character, is a motorcycle-riding combat specialist. She’s teamed with Valentina, advised by tech-savvy Amelia, managed by a manipulative suit named Minuete, and opposed by a conspiracy we don’t understand.

Revolution 60

A good time is had by all.

In formal terms, this is a fairly conventional branching hypertext in which decisions accrete tendencies or stats, and the accumulated stats ultimately determine the ending. That this works at all rests on two piers. First, we’ve got a team of four women whose interactions with each other are complexly nuanced, and the stats play nicely into shifting professional alliances and attitudes. Should Holiday behave “professionally” or should she let her violent roguishness show? Should Holiday flatter management, or should she align herself with her technically-adept peer? These are not melodramatic morality tales, but intriguing choices with consequences, taking us back to the question at the beginning of literary hypertext, “Do you want to hear about it?and the opportunity to answer, “No.”

Second, we’re not simply telling a gender-switched story (as in Hunger Games, which is to say Robin Hood) or a familiar quest tale that happens to have a female protagonist: we’re actually exploring (fairly) real depictions of office behavior in contemporary business culture, extended to an epic stage. When push comes to shove, should you support your manager, who claims to have special knowledge, or the new girl from MIT, who claims to have a different kind of special knowledge? In the last analysis, you’re unlikely to achieve an ideal fantasy outcome: what shortfalls can you accept? And whom will you sacrifice to get where you want to be?

I’m not sure this is entirely successful as a game or a sustainable model for hyperfiction. But it doesn’t have to be: it’s $4 and it takes a couple of hours. (There’s plenty of replay value – hypertexts demand rereading – so no worries there.) Enjoy it for what it is, and look forward to the next adventure.

Amid much Gamergate foolishness swirling at Wikipedia and elsewhere, I’ve been thinking of ways to re/mediate Gamergate.

When you have a hammer, everything problem looks like a nail. When you have narratology, every problem looks like a plot device.

But seriously: one problem here is narrative: the conflict concerns who is to be the protagonist of this melodrama. And if that were the only conflict – if this were all a game without consequences – that would be dandy.

But what if it weren’t a melodrama? How about a nice Shakespearean comedy: Much Ado About Games, with Zoe Quinn as Hero and Brianna Wu as Beatrice? Or, after A Day At The Races and A Night At The Opera we could have A Midnight At 8chan. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Gamergate PR operation has always been worthy of the Three Stooges with the Marx Brothers thrown in for good measure.

Or how about music theater? I can see a big, serious musical here, something like Oklahoma! or – better – Carousel. As I recall, Carousel has two choruses: New England villagers and Carnival Workers. We could have two choruses too: a chorus of feminist game developers and a chorus of “gamers”.

Stonecutters cut it on stone

Woodpeckers peck it on wood

There's nothin' so bad for a studio as

A gamer who thinks he's good!

It won’t stand up to scrutiny, of course, but what’s the use of wondering? And I like the potential for a gender-switched Soliloquy:

Like a tree she'll grow with her head held high

And her feet planted firm on the ground

And you won't see nobody dare to try to mansplain or toss her around!

As you see, I’m in a rotten mood, but This War Of Mine, a new game game by Grzegorz Miechowski about surviving as a refugee in a place that might be Warsaw in World War 2 promises a light little change of pace.

by Jen Wang and Cory Doctorow

A suburban teenage girl goes online, joins a Massively Multiplayer Roleplaying Game, and discovers that there’s a big and complicated world out there. Before she’s finished, she’s a key figure in a new Chinese labor movement. A power fantasy for a new age, but a good time is had by all.

Nov 14 16 2014


One of the things I disliked about my early work in picosecond photoacoustic spectroscopy was that, when strangers asked me “what do you do?”, there was no good answer. Either you were self-deprecating, which is a bore, or you try to explain to people, which is annoying, or you oversimplify, which is pretentious. Or you try to find a polite way to say “you wouldn’t understand,” but there is no such way, and so you mutter to yourself that “they aren’t going to understand” and it’s usually true but nobody’s better off.

Nowadays I make software for writers and researchers, software that helps people write articles and books, manage research, plan departments, make investments, design new stuff. But I find that people increasingly assume that all software pretty much exists already and that working on it now is like ditch digging or assembly line work, work that nobody would do unless they had no choice at all. Anyway, all software comes with your computer, except perhaps for those 99¢ app things we don’t let the kids buy.

Maybe I need to find better parties.

Brent Simmons builds the case against else – specifically, the awkwardness of commenting out the else{} clause without fouling up your brackets.

There’s a deeper case we should mention: radical simplification of conditionals. In the old days, nested conditionals were a dime a dozen, and we all learned to build (and debug) trees of if statements nested three our four deep.

We don’t do that anymore.

In fact, lots of people argue that a conditional is too complex if (a) either clause has more than one line, or (b) it has an else{} clause at all. Instead of an else clause:

if(mill()) { 
 drill); } 
else { 
 fill(); }  

we now write a guard:

if (mill()) {
 return; }

Or, if you should never drill if milling fails, move the test to drill()

bool drill() {
 if (!mill()) return false;
 return true;

And now you’ve got a simpler guard:

if (!drill()) return;

In this view, else is a mild code smell.

by Robert A. Caro

Volume IV of this masterful series covers Johnson’s failed campaign for the presidential nomination in 1960, the many miseries of his vice presidency, and the sudden, terrible transition to the presidency that culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that forever transformed the country. Caro’s sources are manifold and his methods scrupulous, which often lands him with a technical problem: there’s so much evidence, and that evidence is so good and so various, that is becomes a challenge to remember why we are reviewing this evidence in the first place. The result is sometimes repetitious, but the story bears repeating.

Nov 14 10 2014


This is Phil Fish: a case study in internet celebrity. Twenty minutes long, but outstanding craft and a thoughtful argument.

In the GamerGate/RequiresHate/Trolling muddle, I’ve finally learned how to block people in Twitter. This is a good thing to know, as it helps one’s inner light. I’m taking a Twitter Vacation anyway, but blocking helps.

In drafting Bad Faith, I needed at one point to paraphrase a Twitter message from a distinguished colleague whom I had blocked – someone who has accomplished a lot (I don’t recall that we’ve met) and with whom I’d like to have amicably professional relations despite this disagreement. So I googled her twitter handle and mine, figuring that I’d find the tweet in question, check it, and no problem.

Except I got a small hunk of the timeline, and a little ways upstream, after I’d blocked, there was a tweet about race that I’d very much rather not have seen. It was very mild, as things go; Requires Hate would laugh at it as a useless and pitiful thing. And as soon as I saw it, I started telling myself stories: “it might not concern you at all”, “yeah, it’s probably another argument entirely,” “angry people say stuff they don’t mean,” “maybe it’s not quite beyond the pale,” “maybe there’s some prior history.”

Memo for files: never, ever, peer under stones from which you’ve undertaken to avert your gaze.

Stacey Mason, too, is about ready to abandon hope. She offers a general guide on how to argue responsibly.

After months now of particularly draining online discussions conducted in bad faith I find myself lately ready to give up on the Internet.

Meanwhile, I gather some people were baffled by my remarks about knowledge hoarding.

If you know a lead reference that I should know, great: tell me what it is, and give me some idea of how to approach it.… It’s the basic obligation of the scientist: if you know something a colleague needs to know, you succinctly direct your colleague in the right direction.

In school, we learn lessons about deportment and manners and ethics, about sharing your toys and using your fork and doing your own work. As we approach questions of professional ethics and behavior, the instruction becomes more subtle. Some people ignore the lesson at each stage, of course, but I think sometimes people simply don’t receive the required instruction.

I raised a similar question a few years ago about conferences. When you attend a conference, I was taught that any other attendee is entitled to a share of your courteous attention; even (and perhaps especially) young people, students, unattractive people, and people who are unlikely to be of any immediate use to you. Lots of folks thought this absurd and weren’t shy of saying so.

In the sciences, you must never run around shouting, “I know something you don’t know, and I’m not going to tell you!” This is always bad manners, and if you persist it’s also a crime. The whole enterprise of science — that is, Science as an institution — rests on dissemination of knowledge: if you know that someone is making an error, believing a falsehood, or overlooking a vital facet of their problem, you cannot sit there silently. You can’t ignore it because it’s politically inconvenient, or because you like the other person, or because they’ll be angry with you. (If you’re not sure, that’s a gray area, but one must never pretend to be unsure.)

The needs of the proverbial Engineer are a litmus test here. If Professor Jane is making a mistake and you know it and remain silent, and someone designs a bridge that collapses because they relied on Prof. Jane’s result, you are greatly to blame. That you could not have expected this to relate to a bridge is no excuse, nor is the failure of bridges to have been invented when you failed to mention the error. The victims – your victims – will not excuse you because you didn’t actually know someone would someday build that bridge.

There’s also the milder but still stringent claim that the shared pursuit of knowledge imposes. Chaucer famously pins this in his 13th century Professor:

And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.

The point here is not that teaching is a pleasant hobby or a remunerative and comfortable way to earn a nice salary; the point is that getting and sharing knowledge is reciprocal. Everything depends on this: if you have people hoarding knowledge, they aren’t scientists and they aren’t colleagues. They’re mystic wizards in their tower, the allies of myth and superstition and, for all the fun we have with tales of swords and sorcery, they’re always the Enemy.

This obligation is not universal, though I believe the world would be improved were it more broadly felt. We exempt artists because, often, they cannot share what they know. If you ask a chemist, “how did you make that cyclooctatetraene,” she can and should tell you, but we understand that asking Scott Prior, “How did you make Nanny and Rose?” or ask Jo Walton “how did you make Among Others?” the answer is bound to be very partial and inadequate. We also accept that in some walks of life, untruths, exaggerations, and deceptions are more or less acceptable. Politics ain’t beanbag, but when we’re doing research, these are crimes.

And, of course there are limits: life is short, people are busy. A reference or citation to the pertinent work is sufficient, and requires only seconds. If you cannot think of a reference — not even a lead reference — then you don’t know what you claim you know.

If you can provide a reference, and won’t? That’s a misdemeanor. It’s not a terrible crime, precisely, because you can remedy it so easily. And it’s the sort of lapse where your friends can (and should) rush in, covering your lapse and repairing your fault. “I think — correct me if I’m wrong — Mark is thinking of that paper from Chicago, by Perkins and Snodgrass. Or something like that.”

It happens. I’ve probably done it too. But it’s not something to be proud of.

I’ve received a certain amount of email on anonymity and trolls. People have written lots of articles and a few papers — hell, I did a keynote almost a decade ago and I didn’t start the fire — and while a number of correspondents sent interesting discussions of edge cases and boundary conditions, for which much thanks, there’s nothing resembling a persuasive counter-argument in my inbox, much left a disproof. And at this point I’ve heard from some pretty impressive scholars.)

Nov 14 8 2014


Some people on Twitter were upset by my piece on Trolls, concerned that I was unfamiliar with the literature. Unfortunately, the literature on the topic is broad and shallow: there’s a lot to read, and a great deal of it is very poor.

There is every likelihood that I have overlooked some critical research. I’ve read a ton of Web Science, a good deal of Wiki research, and a lot of the early Weblog research; this topic has been discussed in all of these. I’m familiar with the Hypertext Research literature, which touches this as well. I've been program chair for ACM WebSci and ACM WikiSym and twice for ACM Hypertext, for which I’ve typically read all the accepted papers and the rejects. I’ve read a fair bit by people who don’t publish in these places: Corey Doctorow is one obvious contributor.

But important material pertinent to the topic can appear in all sorts of places I’d miss anything that appeared in law reviews, philosophical monographs, or cryptography workshops. Aaron, whose birthday would have been today, might well have written something important on the topic and stashed it in a white paper in the backroom of some obscure Harvard site. That happens.

Consider: a decent respect to the opinions of mankind. If you know a lead reference that I should know, great: tell me what it is, and give me some idea of how to approach it. Over the years, I’ve done this hundreds of times — perhaps thousands of times. Sometimes the person asking is a famous writer or a distinguished professor, and sometimes they’re a graduate student, and sometimes they’re 14 years old and have an idea for a novel they want to publish and can you help them? It’s the basic obligation of the scientist: if you know something a colleague needs to know, you succinctly direct your colleague in the right direction.

Standing on the Twitter corner and shouting "You’re ignorant but I’m busy” betrays the principles of collegiality and of Science.

Sources for Trolls?

Partly, I’m rehashing my 2005 Blogtalk Downunder argument and adding a specific straw man proposal because otherwise it’s just handwringing. After GamerGate and RequiresHate, the time for handwringing is past.

Partly, I’ve thought long and hard about Stacey Mason’s GamerGate responses, temperate and otherwise. Don’t dismiss these as superficial castings of plagues on both houses: Mason’s arguments are deeper and more courageous than they first appear.

Partly, it’s What I Learned At Swarthmore. You had to be there, but if you weren’t, you might start with the work of Jane Addams and her circle, and reflect on Quaker leadership of Abolition.

Partly, it’s Emerson’s Self-Reliance mediated through Roosevelt’s Fear God and Take Your Own Part and Mamet’s True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor: “Stand up, speak out, and stay out of school.”

Also: a small mountain of Web Science papers on coordination of revolutionary movements (and their suppression) in Egypt, Syria, Libya, China, and elsewhere; Tilmann Altenberg’s intriguing but (in my opinion) wrong-headed study of Jorn Barger; and a good deal of Wikipedia policy discussion with pseudonymous colleagues, some of whom are knowledgeable and thoughtful. And let’s also remember Jorn Barger, Kali Tal, Nirelan, Devorguilla, Director, and all the other skilled trolls I’ve met.

Anonymous internet publication should be legal, safe, and rare.

“Morbus Iff” asserts out that doxxing can break anonymity. We now know, as we did not when I wrote in 2005, that a persistent anonymous identity can potentially be revealed through its social graph, allowing even an honest escrow to be circumvented. I bet this can be addressed, even for persistent identities, by keeping your own friends away from your pseudonym, but I’m not sure we need persistent identities. If the pseudonym is short-lived or seldom used, I can’t see how doxxing is feasible without evading escrow.

It may be necessary in some circumstances to stand anonymously athwart history and yell “Stop!”, but if you need to make it a lifestyle, it may be that you’re doing it wrong.

My foundation here is responsibility. The problem with trolls is that they are irresponsible: they can do great damage, yet suffer no consequences. That this is wrong is a proposition on which most (though not all) of us can agree. That this is inexpedient is now, I think, unmistakably clear. A troll has single-handedly torn a swath through SF/F, one that will take years to repair and which as irrevocably damaged the lives of many artists. A small group of trolls has tied gaming in knots and is causing untold harm.

This has got to stop.

Nov 14 7 2014


by Stephen King

The contemporary school story ends with the dissolution of the school, and Stephen King here kicks off a remarkable career with the loving demolition of the school, the schoolchildren, and an entire town. It’s a direct and straightforward book, a simple book really; I wonder whether anyone knew, holding the manuscript back in 1973, what a sensation this would become.

Laura J. Mixon has written a monumental study of one specific troll who has plagued the SF/F writing community for years, a study remarkable for its depth and thoroughness and titled A Report on Damage Done by One Individual Under Several Names. One writer, chiefly known as “Requires Hate” but frequently blogging under other names, has waged a bitter net war against writers she despises, writers who she thinks are racist, sexist, colonialist, and worse. Her denunciations were violent and bitter, prolonged, and intemperate; she wished people ill, she wished them dead, she followed them to other forums and across Twitter. She wrote to conventions to convince them to disinvite speakers, and wrote to publishers to shame them for publishing racist and sexist work. She reduced many writers to tears and inspired at least one suicide attempt.

Kathryn Cramer touched on this:

Over the past five years, women with established careers in the science fiction field have been treated like they are cheap, plentiful, and easily replaced; disposable as light bulbs. And this treatment has come mostly at the hands of other women.

Interestingly, it is now clear that most of the targets of Requires Hate were young women of color.

This chronicle of intemperate and unrelenting attacks, aimed at driving people out of their chosen field, will remind readers of GamerGate. If you’ve been in New Media for a long time, you’ll also remember trolls who wrecked our early communities: Jorn Barger’s demolition of alt.hypertext (and so much else), and Kali Tal’s destruction of the TechnoCulture list.

It’s not that hard to fix this.

  1. Anonymous writing should be the exception, not the norm. Write under your own name. Require people writing on your site to write under their own names.
  2. When people write anonymously, a link to their real name should be held in escrow. That escrow may be secure – I think it can even be secure against law enforcement – but it should not be inconsequential. There should be several competing registrars, as with internet domains.
  3. Registrars may offer a variety of disclosure policies. One might be, “Your identity will remain as secret as we can make it.” Another might be, “Your identity will remain secret until and unless we have reason to believe that your life, or the life of another person, is in danger and disclosing your identity could be of material benefit.” You might be permitted to nominate a delegate with a limited power to authorize disclosure. (I know of a blogger whose weblog has a locked post, with instructions to the ISP to release that file if they are kidnapped or murdered.)
  4. I suggest that your first pseudonym have nominal cost, the next costs US$1000, and the next after that costs $10,000. So, even if you have a sock puppet or two, you’ll treat them responsibly.
  5. Children are entitled to their first pseudonym on their 13th birthday, and can receive a free replacement on turning 18 (or 21). Childrens’ pseudonym’s have the same privacy as adult pseudonyms, but can be identified as belonging to a minor.

But we also need to understand that the bitter steel of righteous wrath must not be deployed casually. People should have denounced Requires Hate ten years ago; it's one thing to be against racism but it's quite another to be unkind, and while some of Requires Hate’s points may have been worth considering, nobody ever thought they were meant kindly.

Just as, while one can sympathize in principle with the threat perceived by #GamerGate, it’s obvious that the expression was contemptible.


Up with this we cannot put. And it’s not just semi-literate redneck ravings. It used to be just fine for Faulkner to write this:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances…

But of course, what Faulkner was saying here in 1948 is that there was this wonderful moment when you could own people, and when the fight to own people had not yet been lost – when it might still be won. He’s looking back to the moment when the entire South was a safe space for men of a certain kind, and for a time when “every Southern boy fourteen years old” did not include black boys of any age.

Speaking of Brianna Wu, her Revolution 60 is an interesting (and well-written) hypertext fiction.

The best thing you can do for your weblog, web site, tumblr, or social media page is to disable comments. I said that in 2005, and it’s still true.

At last, I’ve come to the end of Season 3 and the end of High School. And, once more, the school story ends – as the contemporary school story does – not (only) with graduation but also with the dissolution of the school.

Oct 14 30 2014

How To Roast

by Michael Ruhlman

Conventional food writing assumes that, aside from “serious” cooks, people simply want cooking to be fast, easy, and (if possible) nutritious. Take-out food is ideal fast and easy and could be nutritious: why cook? Lots of people don’t cook much: Ruhlman wants to change that.

What Ruhlman argues in his superb Twenty is that even serious cooking isn’t terribly hard or mysterious. There are a bundle of techniques — Ruhlman counts twenty — to master, and a bundle of ingredients one might acquire from your market. Match those ingredients with the techniques and you’re pretty well set.

Another way to put this is: you don’t need recipes. The core techniques give a dish a basic structure; once you've got that structure, you can do just about anything. This has also been Sally Schneider’s indispensable message: once you’ve got a general idea, you can do wonders with variations. For example, vinaigrette+anchovy+garlic+cheese makes a caesar salad, a bagna cauda, a stuffed artichoke, or a tasty roast mackerel.

Twenty is a dandy book, but it’s a big brick, and people who Don’t Cook don’t need another big brick. How To Roast takes one technique, gives people permission to try it, and shows a small spectrum of variations. You’ve got roast chicken, roast beef, roast cauliflower, roast peaches. You can roast in a roasting pan, you can roast in a skillet, you can roast on your charcoal grill. You can even roast in butter in your Le Creuset, which is as close as you can get to not roasting at all, but it’s poêlé and transgressive so let’s give it a try. (Ruhlman doesn’t talk about it, but you can roast in your toaster oven, too.)

One thing that set the wonderful Making Of A Chef apart, and that distinguishes the very best of Ruhlman’s food writing, is his flair for character, for Erica whose roux caught fire and for angry fellow-student Adam, the working man who hopes someday to open a restaurant/gallery/performance space. There’s not enough scope for character here in How To Roast, or for drama, other than the shadowy partner with whom we can enjoy an hour’s frolic while the chicken roasts. That’s fine, but there’s space for more.

Roast chicken is a very interesting dish, when you come to think about it, in the controversy about home cooking.

  • Given an oven and the simplest bones of knowing what to do, it’s hard to really foul up a roast chicken.
  • Even the simplest of techniques and very mediocre execution will leave you with a dish that’s pretty good, especially if you're accustomed to frozen food.
  • All the likely failures are obvious. (Not done? You didn't use your thermometer. Put it back. Burnt? You entirely forgot the roast was cooking. Bland? More salt — and you can fix that right now at the table.)
  • There’s enough scope for Doing It Right that you can add some variation and you can improve. It’s quite possible to make really good roast chicken. Aside from not making silly mistakes, there’s using a better bird, using a much better bird, brining, basting, rubbing with dry southwestern spices, smoking, stuffing with lemon, making pan gravy, maybe sauce supreme: right there you’ve got two months of roast chicken of the week without repeating yourself.

One thing that I do miss is that, along with the 20 techniques (and of course the modest number of Ratios – an early Ruhlman systematization), there are a modest number of basic structures and symmetries that compose kitchen idioms. A French sauce, for example, is flavored water, flavored fat, and acid: veal stock+shallots sautéed in pan dripping+mustard is sauce Robert; egg yolk+ olive oil + lemon is mayonnaise; vanilla-infused milk+egg yolks+sugar is crême anglais, and you get the acid from the fruit in your dessert.

But it’s not just fancy stuff.

  • What is dinner? A protein, a starch, and a vegetable. Get them all, and everyone will recognize this as a proper meal. Leave one out, and the kids might complain.
  • What is a sandwich? I always thought it was two slices of bread with something in between, but now that you mention it, a sandwich crucially has a sauce between the bread and the payload. The exceptions are easy to work out: peanut butter and jelly (two sauces, one of which acts as the payload), or hot pastrami (a payload with enough spicy fat to provide a built-in sauce). Otherwise, you need the condiment. Salami and mustard on rye is a nice sandwich; a slice of salami between two slices of bread is a crying shame. Someone should have explained this to me before I turned fifty, but there you are.
  • What is a dinner party? A table for eight, with drinks, an appetizer, a dinner plate, and dessert. You can add a salad and no one will complain. I tend to add a course between the appetizer and the dinner plate – they do this routinely in Italy and they do it in every Victorian novel. I started doing this because I misunderstood a book by Susan Goin about menus, but it works because it introduces a little tension in the dinner (what’s he doing?) without frightening the audience (well, at least we won’t go hungry). A second dessert is another fun trick – ridiculous and festive.

There are a bunch of these structures and strictures for each style of eating. McGee covers some of these issues, and Ruhlman’s Ratio looks at others, but there’s still plenty to do. I’d love to see more.

But How To Roast is a terrific little book. It’s friendly, approachable, and it will give your oven a pleasant workout.

My grandmother was, for a time, a newspaper woman. She was a rare bird in that role, and it must have helped that she brought a college degree to a job where, for men, a high school diploma was plenty. And I expect she worked cheap.

My mother was, for a time, a newspaper woman. She wasn’t such a rare bird: her boss was a woman, and there were plenty of women on the paper in all sorts of roles. “Don’t every let them know you can type, Patsy” was her boss’s sage advice.

After first wave and second wave feminism had hit the beach and after the sixties had opened the professions (and Chicago’s Berghof restaurant) to women, that particular fight seemed to be settled. I’ve worked in science, engineering, and technology since I left college, and while women were seldom the majority in the room, they were seldom scarce. That has certainly been the case in hypertext research, the corner of computing I know best: women have always made up a substantial plurality of the audience, about half the program committee, and perhaps a little more than half of the top jobs.

In short, I’ve pretty much assumed that the work of our generation was incremental, a matter of getting from 40% to 50% and smoothing out the welds. Tough work, sure, and not to be minimized, but this was also work not to be compared to the early days of suffrage and barricade.

Well, not so fast. Women now make up almost 50% of medical students and more than 40% of physical science students, but only 17% of computer science majors. I find Bob Martin’s diagnosis unconvincing and his final anecdote, intended to be demonstrate redemption, is deeply wrong-headed.

When I get a program to work, I feel like I've slain the beast and I'm bringing home meat. She responded by saying that she felt that she had nurtured something into being.

Bob Martin, of all people, should know in his bones that these are two different kinds of programming, that both are needed, and that neither has anything at all to do with sex or gender. Few have written better, and no one has written more, about the interconnection of debugging and design. Debugging, in my experience, always demands intensity and sometimes requires rage. When rage slips into design, you’re in terrible trouble: you detest your pointy-haired management, you despise your ignorant users, you loathe the code, and either your work won’t communicate what you really think (in which case it is a dishonest lie and everyone will know it), or it will. To be intelligible is to be found out.

The conventional wisdom used to dictate that you build separate teams with separate responsibilities: designers and coders and testers. Of course, that always leads to wrangles over who’s in charge and how much they get paid, and all that rage shifts from the bugs to the company, to those sons and daughters of bitches who won’t let you do your work properly and who are wrecking the product. Martin himself was instrumental in showing us a better way, demonstrating how refactoring (relentless refactoring forsooth) could slay the beast and nurture the design. These a guns to which we should stick.

Stacey Mason skillfully argues the case for a plague on all houses without asserting the false equivalence that is the worst nonsense of #gamergate.

I’m disappointed with 4chan for a harassment campaign of such incredible scale, but I’m disappointed with social justice because I expected more from us than name-calling, mocking, and immaturity.

One aspect of the computer science numbers to which I think we need to pay attention is the context of the Great Recession. Lots of people in school are desperately worried about jobs. Medicine no longer promises the prospect of luxurious sinecures, but you’ve got to figure that you can get a job. Physical science opens lots of doors. A generation ago, you could hope to get a job at some startup like Microsoft and come away, a decade later, with a few million bucks. A generation ago, Route 128 was dotted with computer companies. They’re all gone now, gone with the hope of making a lot of money by being Employee 37, doing your job and not getting fired.

Chemists and physicists can learn a ton of programming if they want to, and they can wind up in science or industry, in research or finance or software. I went that route, and while it’s probably harder to do nowadays, I bet you could still do it. I think it’s much harder for someone with a CS degree to do research in physics or chemistry.

So CS enrollments are way down, across the board. I don’t know why these forces would exert differential pressure on men and women. I don’t know that they do. If they do, I don’t know how one would demonstrate the effect.

But the notion that dumb jokes and boors are responsible for driving women from computing doesn’t ring true, not to my ear. I don’t really know many men or many women who would be scared off by bad jokes and innuendo. I admit I don’t know a lot of college kids, but it seems unlikely that kids today have less gumption than we had. The women I’ve known in computing and in science wouldn’t be deterred, and in point of fact they weren’t.

Nor were my mother and my grandmother, and surely, back then, those reporters were a plenty hostile to their intrusions. First wave, second wave: I guess we’re still storming that beach.

by Alex Marwood

This Edgar Award winner is no fun at all.

Years ago, school girls Annabelle and Jade met on a summer day, came across a very annoying four-year-old, and everything went as wrong as they possibly could go. Years have passed, they have been released from prison. They have new names and identities; no one knows anything about their childhood, and they never speak of it. A condition of their parole is that they never, ever meet. Jade is now Kirsty, a reporter. Bel manages night-cleaning in a horrible little amusement park in a ghastly British resort town where someone is killing young women, and where the ghouls of the British media are gathering.

Much could have been made of this, and indeed much has been made of it: it won an Edgar and its atmosphere of claustrophobic, creepy, slime is rendered with skill and detail. Marwood does not shy away from challenges: in the crucial final chase, we have three separate heroes, all isolated, blundering about on a deserted amusement park pier on a dark and stormy night, all told in present tense through internal dialogue. As a mystery, The Wicked Girls does not precisely play by the rules, but it never promised to obey those rules and it doesn’t profit from the transgression.

One conspicuously-withheld bit of information is what really happened on that long-ago summer day when two unknown girls transformed themselves into notorious murderers. This story is doled out incrementally in flashbacks which are resolved only as the climax approaches, and this natural choice creates a problem. Readers will recognize at once that the accepted story of what happened cannot be right: first, because this is a mystery, and second, because mystery readers will all know Anne Perry. The gradual disclosure must necessarily build toward a revelation, but here the revelation can only reveal pretty much what we expect. The longer the arc, the greater the apparent tension, the angrier we grow because Marwood is, in effect, making a great show of withholding from us something that is already ours. Even if the backstory had gone completely otherwise, we’d tell ourselves that we expected that. and we would not be wrong. It might have been better to avoid the drama entirely: after all, as both women tell themselves many time, they know perfectly well what happened, and it was a very long time ago.

Oct 14 24 2014

More Notes

In the wake of my recent note about Maps In Maps, Ben Worthington shares a real-life example.

Elsewhere, Alex Strick van Linschoten follows up the Sources And Methods podcast with a detailed look at the workflow behind his books on Afghanistan.

Finally, a listener to the podcast bought a copy of The Tinderbox Way and enclosed a special request.

The Sources and Methods interview helped me realize that I have to commit to Tinderbox in a deeper way if I am ever to get what I need from it.

Mark's point about how you have to spend significant time working out methods of capturing and recording ideas was very well put and finally made my mind up for me….

I think you would be well-served by figuring out how to carry out more of this kind of in-depth advocacy--more than Mark's blog posts and yet short of the Tinderbox weekend events. If you're more "in your face" with people with deep thinking like this, you could very well reach a new level.


Obama is essentially what we used to call a liberal Republican, who faces implacable opposition from a very hard right.
Oct 14 23 2014


Nick Carbone discusses my recent appearance at Sources and Methods.

There's a lot in the discussion that maps on to teaching writing, teaching research, teaching thinking, and faculty development for those professors who want to help students get better at writing, research, and thinking.

The interview can be assigned in time points for students, or one might scroll to to a point and play a snippet as a way to launch a discussion. For students especially, this discussion focuses on the role of noting, of seeing and recording, and in the act of doing so, of thinking, organizing, and find order.