Mar 15 31 2015


Time begins on opening day, which is Sunday night.

For a very long time, I’ve been curious about the differences between major league teams beyond their personnel. Are there significant differences between how different teams approach the game? Are there reasons why the Cubs are so frequently bad, the Rays so often good, and the Orioles so frequently disappointing?

One of the few consistently sensible discussions of this is unfolding at Baseball Prospectus, whose team is crafting a series on Every Team’s “Moneyball” — the hypothetical edge that each team apparently pursues. For example, Atlanta drafts shortstops. Well, everyone drafts shortstops, because it’s the position that requires the greatest talent: every future major-leaguer who is right-handed starts out as the shortstop and cleanup hitter of his neighborhood team. But the Braves emphasize players who can stick at shortstop; that’s interesting. The Diamondbacks emphasize independent leagues. The Pirates emphasize Korea. Interesting.


but it still must be said that his inflammatory and erroneous description of the situation is what caused all this nonsense in the first place. – Jimbo Wales, Wikipedia Chairman Emeritus

Select Commentary: The GuardianGawkerPandoDailyThe Mary SueWil WheatonDer Standardde VolkskrantDr. Clare HooperP. Z. MyersFayerWayerThink ProgressStacey MasonThe VergeHeise Der Verdieping TrouwProf. David MillardWired.deKIRO-FM Seattle (starts at 10:00) ❧ TechNewsWorldWashington PostPrismaticSocialText Neues Deutschland ❧ Vice ❧ Europa (Madrid) ❧ El Fichero BustDaily OrangeOverlandArCompanyThink ProgressContours

Good cause: App Camp For Girls. (Donations to Wikipedia are counter-productive. Give instead to a charity that assists women in computing, or victims of online harassment, not to punish Wikipedia but to repair the damage. App Camp For Girls has already raised $1200 from former Wikipedia donors; do tell them why you’re giving.)

Mar 15 30 2015

Wiki Weather

Wiki weather has been strangely unsettled in recent days. Last week, a heated argument over hidden comments in an information boxes at Sir Laurence Olivier — you couldn’t make this stuff up! — led to a tempest, an Arbcom filing, many angry words, and the forced resignation of administrator Dreadstar.

On his way out the door, Dreadstar lifted my own topic ban. He had every right to do this, since it was his mistake in the first place. He also lifted a block which depended on the ban, which quite possibly exceeded his authority. I have expressed the opinion that this block was also an error, but it might not have been his error to fix. You will not hear me complain.

Some commentators conjectured that, having found himself on the unaccustomed end of the +5 Mop of Blocking, Dreadstar sought at last to clean things up and restore everything to its proper place before he left. Others suppose that, in fury at his bad treatment by Wikipedia, he removed sanctions against the dread Mark Bernstein in the hope that hilarity and trouble would ensue. It may be the case that we cannot know the true state of affairs, as we do not choose to make windows into men’s souls.

One result was a formal Arbcom motion that cites as evidence against Dreadstar my own complaint at being called a “motherfucker” by a Wikipedia official in response to my perfectly sensible query. That’s cute because it turns out that Wikipedia has a catch-22 that prohibits admins from sending out abusive emails, but also prohibits anyone from reporting that they have done so, except privately to Arbcom — and this just happened to drop right into Arbcom’s lap and voila! there the handy evidence happened to be, because I didn’t know any better.

Arbcom has not expressed their gratitude.


So having at least a furlough, I thought it would be churlish not to do something useful. So I trekked over for a look at the biography of Martin Fowler, author of the influential book on Refactoring. This is far, far from GamerGate, and the proper disposition of object methods does not appear to be a gender-related controversy. What could possibly go wrong?

Diderot’s Darling Dingbats! Edit war! Some anonymous account has appeared – what a coincidence! – eager to fight over whether the influential status of Refactoring is contentious. Also, is Refactoring important to Agile practices, or only to Test Driven Development? So now we’re pulling out references and piling up citations for stuff that everyone knows, because some fellow wants to waste a lot of our time, or perhaps wants to settle some score or other. Or perhaps it’s just one of my banned and blocked GamerGate pals using an anonymous account to burn theory people’s time and effort.

I can’t wait to hear what Sea Lions Of Wikipedia makes of this.

Exploring fringes of software aesthetics, I’ve been reading up on things that are not quite beautiful. I came across this in a book review by Adam Kirsch in next month’s Atlantic:

Niceness without goodness is cuteness.

This makes a certain sense; it explains, for example, why a toddler can easily be cute but is seldom beautiful. “Goodness” here is not a moral judgment, or not just a moral judgment: an horse with a hat might be cute, but a beautiful horse is a horse doing what horses do – running gracefully through a meadow, say.

How would this work with software?

We look at a clever Perl one-liner, decipher it’s meaning, and exclaim “Nice!” But one-liners seldom do much good: even when they do something useful, it’s probably better to use a few lines to explain what you intend. Perl one-liners are cute.

Gratuitous user interface polish does little or no actual good; it’s an expense, and it seldom produces much benefit. Often, this year’s marvel may be actively pernicious in a minute or two: remember Cordovan leather backgrounds? Gratuitous polish is cute.

Under the hood, it’s entirely possible to use language features in strange and esoteric ways. You can be make C++ feel like a functional language. You can make C++ feel like Smalltalk. You can write little interpreters in C++ and do the real work in your own variant of LISP. Sometimes, this is elegant; often, it’s merely playing cute.

Games and fictions sometimes drop the mask (or the fourth wall) to attempt an arch and knowing address to the player. We’re in the middle of a complex and challenging city simulation, and suddenly notice that the factories all have silly names and make silly products, or have in-joke references to industry insiders. Archness in games and fiction is cute.

Almost all codewerk is cute.

Brent Simmons hit this nail on the head when he wrote about the problems of splitting classes that are too large and do too much into smaller, more focused objects. If you do this intelligently, you get better code. If you get carried away, you get a basket of bunny classes. Bunny classes are cute.

A fresh and funny study at Sea Lions Of Wikipedia of the wisdom of extending Gamergate sanctions to all gender-related disputes and controversies, plus anyone involved in gender-related disputes and controversies.

So you see, Sea Lion fans, if it’s a Bad Thing that happens largely to women — like Campus Rape and domestic violence — it’s automatically controversial!

There’s no chance that this will work; it can’t be supported rationally and it can’t be administered sanely. As far as I can make out, the plan is to ban trouble-makers (like me) left and right until everything is calm and civil, a plan excused because Gamergate is not terribly important in the great scheme of things.

The problem for Wikipedia is that gender-related issues and controversies are important. Wikipedia stumbles badly on many of them, in part because so much editing is performed by factions, cliques and trolls, and in part because so many Wikipedia editors just aren’t interested in gender beyond looking at pictures of pretty women who have misplaced their clothes.

Mar 15 25 2015


by Rebecca Scherm

Pullman’s wonderful trilogy of His Dark Materials is the story of Lyra, a heroine who is a superlative liar. This stark, realistic novel is the story of a heroine who steals. She begins at an early age; her family is awful and so, without our noticing it, she steals herself a new family. She’s very good: people actually are touched by her appreciation of their stuff, so touched they sometimes thank her for caring enough to take things. She winds up in Paris, broke and unhappy, working as an expert restorer and dreading the day when her husband gets out of prison and comes to ask her for the life she stole.

Mar 15 20 2015

Flying Trapeze

This has to be a first: over at Wikipedia, some guy want them to throw the book at me because … wait for it … I use too many links! (He’s also very angry because I asked Arbcom whether Campus Rape falls under Gamergate discretionary sanctions, when he thinks it’s obvious that it does. Okay.)

Now, lots of referees over the years have muttered to themselves that Bernstein uses an awful pile of footnotes and references a terrible lot of the research literature. Patterns of Hypertext has 76 references, Criticism has 93 – a lot for a 10-page paper. Still: if you need the references (or want a reading list), these can be useful. If you don’t, they do little enough harm. (Designing A New Media Economy has but 32 references, but it’s also got 18 footnotes, many of them fairly extensive.)

Let’s face it: links are perfect for this. If you want to gist or already know the area, skip the link. If you want more information, follow it. If you skip the link, fine — just don’t blame me for withholding information.

(I think the guy who’s complaining doesn’t understand that Google never indexes Wikipedia’s back-of-the-house, and imagines that I’m getting tons of traffic and page rank from Wikipedia. In fact, I’ve probably sent Arbcom a lot more traffic than they’ve sent me!)

Speaking of crowds, a hilarious new site,, skewers the current Gamergate brawl. Here’s the latest installment: Sea Lion VOLLEYBRAWL, Part Three! Of Mops and Sticks. It’s very inside baseball, but clever jokes like the “+5 Mop of Banning” really help after an immersion in Wikipedia’s often-insufferable self-importance — especially when I’ve been responding with bombast and not alliterative verse. I don’t know who writes this site, but they’re funny and they really do understand Wikipedia’s back alleys.

Update! That was fast: if I’m reading this correctly, an actual Arbcom clerk has seriously proposed to topic-ban me from my own weblog and to place my Wikipedia user page under Gamergate Discretionary Sanctions. Because ethics? Cake on a rake!

(Meanwhile, if I’d only linked to Foucault, Haraway, and Butler, I might have saved Arbcom from the 4-credit course on Feminism in the Postmodern Era.)

March 17 begins at the Gamergate Talk page, as many do, with the arrival of a fresh new editor. Galestar joined Wikipedia in 2009 and last edited 14 months ago. Today, he’s here to fix a problem: the Gamergate page says "misogynistic," that’s an opinion, and Galestar announces "I will be removing these adjectives as per WS:RSOPINION" .

Galestar doesn't have much editing experience and he might be excused for being rusty after 14 months away, but no: he’s got policy at his fingertips in virtually his first post. Discussion follows -- 2500 hundred words of discussion in this section alone.

This topic – the use of “misogynistic” – is not new. According to my informal survey of the million-word archives, it was discussed before on: Feb 24, Feb 11, Jan 27, Jan 25, Jan 22, Jan 9-11, Dec 22, Nov 24, Nov 13, Nov 2, Oct 27, Oct 12, Sep 19, Sep 16, Sep 11, and Sep 6. As here, the discussion is often launched by a new or zombie account; often, this account knows a ton about WikiLawyering but pretends to be unaware of all the prior discussions.

This is not the only recurrent topic. It’s just one of a half-dozen arguments which can never be settled because zombie accounts return to restart them every two weeks. This isn’t their favorite topic: those involve the sex lives of Gamergate victims. But it’s today’s topic, so away we go.

This is against Wikipedia policy, obviously. But that doesn’t matter because Wikipedia policy effectively prohibits any complaint about this kind of collusive editing. Anyone who complains – even through an indirect allusion to the existence of the phenomenon, is promptly punished. These accounts are not fresh new editors; they’re personae cultivated by Gamergate for a purpose, built from the compost of abandoned and zombie user accounts. But everyone else must pretend that brand-new editors arrive every two weeks, armed with a fresh knowledge of WikiLaw and jargon, determined to changes the consensus. Wikipedia: the encyclopedia any manilla folder on the closet shelf can edit™.

by Jane Austen

Consolation in the wake of Wikipedia/Gamergate chaos and affliction. (Is Pride and Prejudice a gender-related controversy? Oh, dear…)

Mar 15 16 2015


Good news: Over The Precipice has already been tweeted or retweeted to about 200,000 people.

Bad news: The armies of Mordor found out, and they're eager to get me topic-banned for mentioning it on my Wikipedia talk page. Looks like they’ve got plenty of sympathetic administrators willing to rid them of this troublesome hypertext researcher.

Worse News: The Gamergaters oppose my topic ban appeal with awful echoes:

While MarkBernstein, writing to us from the top of the Reichstag…–Rhoark
All we get now is Reichstag climbing over admin actions… – ColdAcid


Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee, ever a font of hilarity, has formally responded to my Request For Clarification and unanimously decided that “Campus Rape” does indeed fall under Gamergate discretionary sanctions. (Link updated) So, apparently, does the biography of Lena Dunham, and sections of NFL pages that deal with abusive players, sexual assaults by players.

From here on out, every biography of a living woman who is disliked by the American Right will be subject to the Gamergate discretionary sanctions. Male biographies would only be involved if the men have notable gender controversies: a doctor who conducts abortions, say, or who defends the right of women. Any woman can be involved in a gender-related controversy at any time: just get people to talk about her appearance, or her sex life, or her abortion, and Bob’s your uncle.

Every biography of a lesbian, gay, transgender, or gender-queer person is apparently subject to Gamergate discretionary sanctions, since it’s obvious that these are potentially controversial and gender is involved somehow. Of course, people in heterosexual relationships are not covered as there’s no potential for controversy there, right?

This mess stems, ultimately, from Wikipedia’s anti-intellectual tradition. The Encyclopedia Anyone Can Edit™ can easily become the encyclopedia where everyone is an expert with no need to seek advice or to look stuff up. Hetero-normative? Androcentic? Oblivious?

Research needs to look more closely at Wikipedia’s capture by the right. I’ve been focusing here on sexism and Wikipedia, but Wikipedia’s roots lie in Libertarian techno-utopianism and I suspect it’s increasingly dominated by an alliance of libertarians and tea partiers. It’s a tricky question: Wikipedia is also plagued by right-wing zealots from Israel, Ukraine, and the Balkans. Of course, these aren’t separate in the way they used to be: Netanyahu’s big donor is also the big money behind Newt Gingrich.

Last week, a pair of Gamergaters attempted to out a software developer on a Wikipedia talk page. Their canard was published for eight hours before someone finally obliterated it. The perpetrators have not been sanctioned.

Meanwhile, I'm being read out of meeting for having the temerity – can you imagine? – to allude, during a discussion of an article about collusive editing of Wikipedia’s Gamergate page, to (get this) collusive editing of Wikipedia Gamergate page. I wrote:

“It is fascinating that the particular group of editors who recently were so eager to cite Gamergate wikis, weblogs, and Breitbart are reluctant to inform newcomers to this article of this important new essay. Why would that be?

No doubt this was a very wicked thing to say, though I’m not sure how. I repeat it and the Wikipedians all gasp, grow pale and flutter their handkerchiefs. It might violate WP:MOMHESLOOKINGATMEFUNNY, except that's not an actual Wikipedia policy.

There are worse things: One of those worse things is outing -- the real thing, not the Wikipedia thing. It can ruin careers and cost lives. This is not a mere content dispute or a fight about infoboxes.

You can’t make this stuff up.

At yesterday’s St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, I had a brief chat with my Representative, Katherine Clark (D-MA), who recently spoke out about Gamergate and internet harassment (Mother Jones ❧ . Tech CrunchJezebelThe Hill). She makes an excellent point: it’s not just games, and accomplished women get this all the time. Even the Congresswoman was surprised at the Twitterfed vitriol heaped on her for asserting that the government ought to protect the rights of women to be software developers if that's what they want to do.

The NY Police tried to edit Wikipedia to remove criticism of police shootings. (I’m inclined to suspect that someone tied to the Aaron Swartz prosecution did the same thing last year, incidentally.) This was only caught because the police were lazy, incompetent, and edited from work; if they'd done the work at home or at the NY Public Library, they'd have been praised.

Last week, Katherine Clark was at Selma. We are all at Selma again.

Mar 15 13 2015


Recently, Shanley Kane wrote a series of Twitter posts which explain what's going on at Wikipedia and why it matters. For ease of reading, I've reformatted into conventional paragraphs and lightly edited, and I’ve moved this from my Wikipedia user page because the Gamergate crew armies of Mordor complained of it.

They have been testing and perfecting a terrorism formula to ruin target's lives, attempt to get them murdered or drive them to kill themselves.

The first step is doxxing and death threats, which immediately destabilizes the target's most fundamental sense of safety and security. This often forces target to leave their home & immediately stop any career/family/social/community work as they work to re-establish safety. It creates the isolation needed for longer-term campaigns (100s of threatening, abusive, harassing messages per hour) to have max. impact. Under these conditions, the target's mental health will rapidly decline and suicide ideation, self-harm, anxiety and panic sets in. This causes lasting trauma that will not only temporarily silence but forever change the target's sense of safety and support in speaking.

They then start digging in detail through your past to "find"/"invent" things to justify harassing you and get more ammo. This has the nice bonus effect of "proving" to your "community" that you deserve harassment and aren't worth supporting = more isolation. In white-male dominated, misogynist environments, it is incredibly easy to signal to a target's community that they don't deserve support. Thus, abandonment by their community is easily secured as the target suffers from the campaign to dig up their past.

That campaign signals to any stalkers, past partners, etc. that now is the time to GET THEM. This often means cyber sexual assault & DV. As well as outing of gender identity, sexuality, etc. which threaten any career and family support system that may exist If ''anyone'' is defending you at this point, the same techniques are applied to supporters to make sure that stops. The message is clear: This target ''will'' be left completely isolated as we torture, terrorize and abuse them with impunity... or else.

This is a formula, it is known and documented, it has been tested and refined, and it is becoming more effective and scalable. So please, wake the fuck up and realize what we are dealing with here because for the 100th time: this is just the beginning. There are three ultimate goals: incite someone to murder the target, manipulate the cops to do it, or drive the target to suicide. Period.

Fallows on Tinderbox

James Fallows: Interesting Software Update.

1) "Getting Started With Tinderbox." For the past few years, my go-to workhorse program for data organizing/software-for-thinking has been the Mac-only program Tinderbox, from Eastgate Systems in Watertown, Massachusetts. (My program for writing, as I can't mention often enough, is the absolutely unparalleled Scrivener, from Literature and Latte software in Cornwall, England.)

Lots of interesting discussion of Tinderbox and of Jerry Michalski's use of “The Brain”.

Fallows calls attention to Tinderbox pricing; these days, Tinderbox is an unusually costly program. Michael Tsai (whose Spam Sieve is indispensable for someone like me whose email address is old and widely known) has an excellent directory of recent discussions about sustainable software.

by Gabrielle Hamilton

This is impressive writing; in the guise of writing yet another restaurant recipe book. Hamilton has written an intelligent and sympathetic response to Kitchen Confidential, a delightful portrait of a chef masquerading as a cookbook. This looks like a collection of recipes, but the recipes are written (and the book designed) not as if they’re adapted for the home cook, but instead as if they’re odd sheets of instructions to be handed to new line cooks. There are lots of canny and charming words of warning and advice – including several mentions of shortcuts that we wouldn’t take if we were “a real restaurant.”

There’s an entire chapter on garbage: how to use up food that even professional kitchens would throw away. (Example: sardine heads and bones: season, deep fry, and send ’em out to guests who are chefs, line cooks, or other professionals who’ll understand. These are not to be wasted on mere VIPs.)

Cookbooks are usually meant to be instructive; here, we’re not always offering the instructions we’d expect. In prepping the paté for a bar snack sandwich, the recipe advises that for a half batch one should make a cardboard and foil partition so you can use half the paté pan, and if you don’t know how, you should “find me and we’ll do it together.” Yes, chef. In prepping a dish based on lamb-filled wontons, the recipe calls for grabbing any intern or trailer in the house that night, because the prep is such a bitch. You don’t get this stuff from Joy of Cooking.

Recipes are scaled for service — but that often works out conveniently to 8, which is to say a dinner party, and we all know division. There’s some fun reverse snobbery at work here too: the “duck liver garbure” is made with foie gras (and, we’re warned, is not really a garbure so don’t call it that if we get a job someday in a real restaurant).

Mar 15 8 2015


Obama at Selma (must-read: Fallows’ on “Finally I Hear a Politician Explain My Country Just the Way I Understand It”)

That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history, or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for the past. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing. We are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe old age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

Oh my: “a mighty march.” We all know who that sounds like.

The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon

Men and women, torch and bridge, revolution and tyranny, ocean and river, women and labor, the world war and the moon: we know who that sounds like. That’s Lincoln. But the contraction — the contraction is purest Reagan: even now, Obama reaches out for those with ears to hear.

And what Republican today would dare mention that river?

The speech is filled with presidential echoes.

When it feels the road is too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example.

Hello, Jack.

And once more, we close at the very beginning:

We honor those who walked so we could run.  We must run so our children soar.  And we will not grow weary.  For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.

We worship an awesome God in the blue states….

Mar 15 6 2015


A masterful review of the history of the Gamergate Affair at Wikipedia, by Lauren C. Williams at Think Progress: The ‘Five Horsemen’ Of Wikipedia Paid The Price For Getting Between Trolls And Their Victims.

Mar 15 4 2015


The first appearance of “Infamous” in a college syllabus: ITP Core 2 at CUNY, taught by Lisa Brundage and Michael Mandiberg. Interesting readings, and a prodigious set of graduate students!

Marcus Zarra laments the Dangers Of Misinformation, specifically when software developers share specific experiences that are later generalized so broadly that the overall impression is false.

For example, years ago Brent Simmons pointed out problems that were leading him to leave Core Data behind. Looking back, he says

The response to that post continues to amaze me. I come right out and say, multiple times, that you should use Core Data. And yet it’s used as a thing about how Core Data sucks.

Caves and Enclaves

Lots of software developers work in caves, using the tools and techniques they already know and adding whatever they’re required by circumstance to acquire. When they are at work they’re not at home, and when they’re at home they’re not reading journals or immersing themselves in books about software. So, when it comes to new technology, they rely on occasional hints they see or hear.

Other software developers work in enclaves – companies and clusters of companies that share a technical base and a technical attitude. Again, the common wisdom in an enclave gets formed by the bellwethers, and often that process of wisdom-formation is erratic.

Our problem is simply that lots of new ideas are actually bad ideas; things that ComputerWorld and TechCrunch tell you are the Big New Thing are sometimes yesterday’s thing and often nothing at all. Sometimes, a new system rolled out at WWDC will make your life better if you adopt it right away; sometimes, it’s going to make everyone miserable unless you wait a year or two for the dust to settle. (Years ago, Apple had a lovely technology called OpenDoc to which we made a big commitment. It was The Future. Then, one day, it was Cancelled. No more. Nice product you had there…)

Right now, Joel Spolsky’s Stack Exchange plays a crucial role in linking up caves and enclaves. It’s a technical forum, and it’s often astonishingly good: you search on the ridiculous error message that makes no sense that that you’ve certainly never seen before, and voila there’s someone else who reported exactly the same message last week, and explains who sent it and why. But lots of people on Stack Exchange don’t know what they’re talking about, and lots of them don’t have a very solid grasp of English, and so there’s also a fair amount of noise.

The Way Out

One good way out of this bind is simply to have better contacts.

Planning Tinderbox Six, I was guided by a number of warnings that Objective C++ was slow, poorly supported, doomed, or otherwise a Bad Idea. The problem was, Objective-C simply doesn't support a number of idioms on which Tinderbox relies. So I started to ask around: could we use a little Objective C++? Could we use it briefly as a transitional mechanism?

I asked lots of people who have solid Mac products and lots of experience, and the answer came back: “people say it’s a bad idea, but it’s not.”

“Are you sure?” I asked them. “Everyone says…”

“Everyone is an idiot. We’ve done everything that way for a couple of years.”

The Better Way Out

Make mistakes. Accept that code will be thrown away. Wrong turns aren’t a waste: they tell you where you didn’t want to go, and give you an idea of where you might head another time.

Find a way to be more at home with your work, and to work when you’re at home because it’s natural to do what you do. You can live with alienation, but you don’t want to.

Don’t trust the common wisdom of your technical enclave too far. Stand up, speak out, judge for yourself, and be ready to change your mind.

by Laurie R. King

Mary Russell finds herself in Morocco. She has misplaced her memory; she can’t quite remember who she is or how she finds herself in Marrakech. We know (though she does not) that she has also misplaced her husband, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Intrigue and action in 1920s North Africa ensues, with a lovely portrait of Hubert Lyautey, the French resident-general, and of his expert and capable majordomo, Youssef.

Dave Grey’s Squiggle Birds, a five minute exercise to convince people that, yes, they can draw well enough.