# (5) 02 Mar 2011, 04:54AM: Wikimedia:
Now that my new bosses have told the world: yes, I'm also now consulting for the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that supports Wikipedia and other free knowledge initiatives. To grossly simplify, I'm coordinating software development (mostly MediaWiki improvement) that isn't by WMF staffers, primarily concentrating on the upcoming Berlin hackathon and this year's Google Summer of Code participation.
Thank you, nostalgia: in December, I was looking up my old high school classmate Christine Moellenberndt, and discovered she was a new hire, then looked at the current job openings, and applied.
I told my mom about it and it went something like:
"Mom, I'm working for the nonprofit that does Wikipedia! ... No, not them, they're different. Wikipedia is a big free encyclopedia that's online for anyone to use. Wikileaks is a ... well, they're a bunch of people who like to get and publicize secrets -- anyway, that's not us."
And no, this holiday season my photogenic face will not be on banner ads entreating you to give. As far as I know.
# (1) 02 Mar 2011, 10:03AM: Yahoo! Labs Research Presentations, February 2011: Part I:
This year, Columbia WICS let me come to another Yahoo! Labs research presentation/lunch (last year's notes). Thanks for the invite, Elizabeth Kierstead. My writeup begins here!
Schmidt of Academic Relations started off by talking about all those other industry research labs and their SAD DECLINE. Bell/Lucent/Alcatel, AT&T Labs --
he'd seen them wither into irrelevance. (Despite that awesome Bell Labs Innovation song.) But Yahoo! Labs, started in 2005, is evidently hella relevant and vibrant. [Update: see comment below for clarification.]
Schmidt discussed the various groups within the labs, including Advertising Sciences or "AdLabs,"
which seems new. As he put it, there's a disconnect between the number of dollars spent on ads and how much time people spend clicking on them. (*cough* social media *cough*)
The recruiting bit: you can pick which lab location to work in. They have a research
lab in Haifa! And Schmidt assured us that Yahoo is woman-friendly, led by CEO Carol
Bartz and featuring 500+ women in Yahoo's women's group. Mostly the same spiel as last year,
including Schmidt's reminder of the Key Scientific Challenges program that gives grad students money, secret datasets,
I have the phrase "'billions & billions' of pageviews, etc." in my notes here and assume it's because Schmidt was pointing out how much data Yahoo! folks
get to work with, and what a huge impact they make.
Then: student intros! There were about ten of us there, mostly grad students. Their interests ranged through social networks, data mining, spoken and
natural language processing, privacy & security, compilers for heterogeneous architectures, and economics.
First presentation: Elad Yom-Tov's and Fernando Diaz's
"Out of sight, not out of mind: On the effect of social and physical detachment on information need". Let's take three example events: the San Bruno gas
pipeline explosion, the New York City tornado, and the Alaska elections. People might be interested in searching for information about them because they live
nearby, or because they have friends who do. So you measure physical and social attachment/detachment: physical distance and number of local friends.
What data did they use? The query log: userID, time, date, text of query, results, what they clicked (with term-matching, inclusion + exclusion). The
location data: the ZIP code the user provided during initial registration. I'm skeptical of that but the researchers say it's fairly reliable, although "more
than we [would] expect live in Beverly Hills." And the social network: the number of instant messaging contacts you have who live in the relevant location.
There's a strong correlation with physical detachment, an exponential fit. As for the social network: the more local friends you have, the more likely you are
to ask Yahoo! about the event. Beyond 5 friends, the data is noisy, and we don't have a lot of data there, but overall it's a very nice fit, strongest with the
San Bruno data. And if you're local, you have more local friends, but that isn't strong enough to explain what we see.
In terms of time: attention span is limited. People's attention wanes after about three days.
The researchers compared people's queries along the social and physical distance axes, looking for unusual phrases -- phrases that trended up around the
dates of the incidents. If searchers are physically close to the incident, whether their friends live there or not, they use the same words. Like, for the NYC
tornado: queens, picture, storm, city, nyc. If they're physically far away but have friends in New York, they use terms like brooklyn. [Also
mentioned: new(s) and york, but that might be a stemming fail.] But a term that people both physically and socially detached from New York City
searched for: statue of liberty. Is that grand lady all right after the tornado? America wants to know! (Yes.)
(The presenter then spoke about clustering queries by words, since different words signify different informational needs, but this bit had pretty bad graphs
and I didn't understand.)
So Yahoo! wants to learn to identify relevant querier. "Pacific Gas & Electric" is a legitimate query that people search for on any given day, but it would
be possible to programmatically tell that it has a lift due to current news. So Yahoo! wants to act relevantly. In the PG&E example: most days, the search
result is and should be the PG&E homepage, but on that day, a top result or sidebar should be a news item about the explosion. A more abstract way of saying
this: "learn a retrieval mode for each detachment level." Using social knowledge gets ranking results that are better than just geotargeting -- the difference
is statistically significant -- and better even than combining a person's geographic and social detachment levels. "There's a problem with 'both,' probably
because of the way we trained our models."
Previous studies suggested that the further a news source is from where something is happening, less likely the news source is to report the event. And
Yom-Tov & Diaz's work bore this out. News as a function of distance drops exponentially, as do tweets. Interestingly, when you look at the temporal spike
orders (which came first?) on Twitter mentions/searches, the Yahoo! query log, and mainstream news coverage, you see different spike orders for the different
events. Sorry, I don't have more details, but I bet the researchers do.
One interesting side effect: we can look at people's queries and infer their location (although you can of course usually also do that with IP addresses).
You can even track a hurricane by tracking where the queriers are over time.
These take a while to write up, so I'll save David Pennock's microecon research overview, Sebastien Lahaie's "Advertiser Preference Modeling in Sponsored
Search," and Sharad Goel's confidence calibration project for later posts.
# 03 Mar 2011, 09:02AM: Scan-sational:
I'm back at Common Spaces as a flexspace member. Couches, desks, pretty good internet, a conference room and an old-school phonebooth, and a Mirabai some of the time. Most excitingly, I just discovered that the networked printer/copier/fax can also scan to JPEG. And it sensibly has a USB port built in so I can stick a flash drive in and save the scan to it! High-res, low-res, color or grayscale, direct-to-PDF --
I may be a little too excited.
# 04 Mar 2011, 07:53AM: Oh No, I Feel A Startup Coming On (*Achoo!*):
One of my gigs is grant research and proposal writing for QuestionCopyright.org. I had never researched grants or written grant proposals before this job. At least one friend of mine said that the idea of doing grantwriting scared them off. And yeah, I could see where the anxiety comes from. You have to persuade someone of your value and the value of your project, prove (as my sister puts it) both the financial and the social return on investment you'll provide, submit constrained essays and complicated forms to faceless institutions, angle for personal connections, and receive a lot of rejections (possibly without ever hearing advice on how to improve, or feedback on the quality of your application).
So it's like a job application, a college application, and a project proposal to your boss's boss, plus online dating. Immediately I envision some kind of Match.com/Idealist/Duotrope's Digest/RightSignature/SlideShare mashup.
# (2) 08 Mar 2011, 09:12AM: "Square Pegs":
Until the end of March, US residents can watch 1980s high school sitcom Square Pegs on Hulu. There was only one season, so you could, on either a steady, strenuous, or grueling pace, finish the batch off before Hulu takes it down.
Why would you wish to do this?
- Square Pegs is funny. It's light, and even the few villains are comical. And it moves fast; a plot point that, on another sitcom, might take fifteen minutes to resolve, comes out here in three (see especially "Hardly Working").
- The creator, Anne Beatts, worked on Saturday Night Live in the seventies. This shows in the writing, in the caricatures, and in the guest stars. Bill Murray shows up as a genuinely wacky, scary substitute teacher in "No Substitutions".
- So eighties! One episode is called "Pac-Man Fever" and for good reason. One student's obsessed with New Wave (his passion borne out when Devo performs, live, in "Muffy's Bat Mitzvah"). One young teacher used to be a radical protestor; another teacher is obsessed with his Vietnam experience ("Square Pigskins"), and it's played for laughs. (All the teachers have strange obsessions. "A Cafeteria Line" is exemplary.)
- Muffy Tepperman, obsessed with pep, is an easier-to-hate precursor of Reese Witherspoon's character from Election.
- One of the two stars: a young Sarah Jessica Parker.
- Some episodes portray Vinnie Pasetta as a wise, benevolent thug and it's great. (Example: "To Serve Weemawee All My Days".)
- Square Pegs is not at all like high school. No arcs, no studying, about eight students of consequence, teachers who host sleepovers, just an utter fantasy.
Leonard suggests you start with "Hardly Working" or "A Cafeteria Line." Tell me if you've seen any, so we can wonder together where in the heck Weemawee is supposed to be. New Jersey? Southern California?
(A qualified endorsement: there's a lot of fatphobia in Square Pegs. As much sexism/racism/homophobia/etc. as you'd expect from a CBS sitcom from 1982, but way more sizeism than I was expecting.)
# (2) 08 Mar 2011, 02:59PM: Writing, Delegating, Researching: Marketing GNOME 3:
Allan and I discussed some near-term priorities today in #marketing, so I'll document them here (and on the marketing list).
Allan this week is concentrating on release notes. He feels he has a good handle on what to write for the user side, but would like more input on what's changed for developers, so he wants advice/contacts on how to get that. I've suggested he do a session in #gtk+ or some other popular IRC channel and crowdsource some rough bullet points. He's also working on the Porting Guide -- as of today, he's working with Shaun McCance and the docs team. (This is part of our marketing to distributions.) We're hoping to coordinate with the docs team on this during their May hackfest.
He's already blogged/emailed what he's done so I won't rehash.
Sumana: Between my last note and now, I chased distribution marketing, clarified the role of the release roadmap, started a press release, got a CiviCRM account and started accumulating press contacts, chased video from launch parties and restarted the conversation about GNOME 3 videos, communicated & thought with Brian and Allan about promoting FLOSS and not promoting unfree software, reached out to potential volunteers (including on foundation-list), and recruited and edited articles for GNOME Journal's Issue 23 (GNOME 3.0 issue). And then today Allan and I hashed out some priorities in #marketing.
This week, to balance Allan's focus on two big things, I intend on doing a lot of smaller things.
This is a lot and so it might change if more pressing matters come up, but I think it's a good place to start. Thanks again, GNOME community, for the opportunity to work on this!
- Get into CiviCRM and input our press contacts, start seeking the ones we want but don't have (Ars Technica, Wired, TechCrunch, O'Reilly online) in collaboration with Zonker
- Continue drafting 2 press releases, 1 for a Linux-specific crowd (like LWN) and one for a more general tech crowd (like Wired)
- Try out the GNOME install of Collabtive and see if Allan and I should switch our task management to that, or to Bugzilla (trying to track tasks in live.gnome wiki tables is not my idea of pleasant)
- With a little input from Allan, start setting up another GNOME User Day for late March
- Ask Licio to chase marketing localization
- Continue recruiting and editing GNOME Journal's GNOME 3 edition
- Reach out to docs team and other potential volunteers
- If I have time, chase videos/screencasts
- If I have time, some wiki cleanup
(photos from last year's marketing hackfest in Zaragoza, Spain)
# 13 Mar 2011, 11:31AM: Well, Actually:
A few weeks ago, I was catching up with a friend, and he remarked that one reason he likes open source software is that it doesn't have marketing. At this point I said, I realize now that I haven't told you that one of my jobs is marketing for an open source project. He self-consciously backpedaled a bit, and we both laughed, and he clarified that he hates marketing based on lies. And I'm not doing that, so we're cool.
Then last night I saw Rango with some acquaintances (thanks for the recommendation, Jed!). Afterwards, as we discussed the references, and adaptations, and movies and narrative and crossovers and references, one of them made a slightly inaccurate remark about copyright and I stayed myself from issuing a primer. And I realized she didn't know that one of my jobs is grantwriting for QuestionCopyright.org.
I have become Marshall McLuhan coming out from behind the cardboard. As Leonard put it: "You know nothing of what my work is!"
# 15 Mar 2011, 01:24PM: New Edition Of/Nueva Edición de GNOME Journal:
In this special edition of GNOME Journal, GNOME HISPANO's Juanjo Marin arranged for us to get five great stories in both English and Spanish. You can read these now at http://gnomejournal.org:
The GNOME Journal features original content and commentary for and by the GNOME community. All articles are published under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. Please feel free to translate, podcast, repost, etc.
Thanks to Juanjo, the authors, Diana Katherine Horqque, Will Kahn-Greene, Sriram Ramkrishna, and Paul Cutler for their work on this issue!
Issue 23 will come out around April 3 and focus on the release of GNOME 3.
# (5) 21 Mar 2011, 08:47PM: Phone Call For You, The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads:
So the next time I have a colleague who was born in 1990, I will wish to nickname them "Flood". This of course means that I should be nicknaming every colleague with an album title from the year they were born! 1979? "The Wall" or "London Calling." 1982? "Sonic Youth" or "Big Science" or ... see this blog entry's title.
# (2) 22 Mar 2011, 08:45PM: A Slightly Disjointed (Due To A Five-Day Cold) Musing On Open Source, Fear, Motivation, And Witnessing:
I was introducing C. to a set of QuestionCopyright friends and acquaintances, and they were joking about indoctrinating her, and she was curious to hear what free culture is all about. So she wondered why I reflexively suggested that the others wait a bit, tell her next time.
They did give C. the introductory spiel, and conversation was pleasant and edifying, and nothing terribly awkward ensued. She has developed a substantial interest of her own, now, in the theory and practice of free culture. But why did I have that reflex? I felt around for it and grasped something. It makes it harder, I said, once you know these things and care about them. Becoming a free culture/free software person is like becoming a vegan.
No, G. replied -- at least people know what vegans are.
We happy few.
Here I was, a fulltime free culture/free software consultant, feeling an unaccustomed reluctance to give someone else the sunglasses, to witness.
There are self-constraining ideologies like veganity or chastity that modern society at least theoretically understands, even if some cohorts scoff. Then there are the practices that always require an introduction. When I explain how I met Leonard, I often start with the thirty-second "what is open source" explanation, because it's all of a piece. But my "what is open source" intro focuses on pragmatism -- many eyes making bugs shallow -- rather than free software values.
I think I'm a moderate sort of open source gal, an ovo-lacto vegetarian. There's an iBook running Mac OS tucked off in a drawer, and all these Linux boxen in our house surely have nonfree binaries driving bits of hardware. No Facebook but I surely use many cloud services that violate the Franklin Street Statement. I hang out with copyright abolitionists, Debian users, and other free culture/free software folks who make me feel namby-pamby. And then I go to dinner with someone who makes me feel like a Jain. Or I find myself saying, as I said a week ago, that developing on a closed platform is like trying to fall in love with someone who won't talk to you.
Our love is part of what energizes us, moves us to act. In FLOSS, volunteers do things for two basic reasons: either because we enjoy doing them for their own sake, or because the task needs doing and we want to do our bit. We see some goal the task will help us reach, or fear an outcome the task will help us prevent. [By the way, it's useful to have experienced that, because it's useful to assume those two as the means of persuasion whether my colleague's paid or not. As a leader, I should either set up tasks people will genuinely enjoy (and get the scutwork out of the way), or help my colleagues see a straight line from the task to a glorious future. Show them how what we're doing leads to something they want. This is my pet theory of How To Lead Knowledge Workers and your mileage may vary.] And -- as a zillion social scientists will tell you -- even if we momentarily burn out on caring about a goal for its own sake, we don't want to let the team down. We don't want to let our buddies down.
As we were talking about GNOME marketing, Andreas once asked me what I found special, what personally spoke to me about GNOME. I rambled: object code is compiled from source code, but the source code is compiled, too -- compiled from people, from time, from love. Every time I look at my desktop, every feature and every bug comes from someone, someone with a name and a face, and sometimes I can even remember. Hey, I remember when she added that feature to Empathy. Oh, right, I know he's working on that bug. It's like all of Planet GNOME is helping me out, every day. It's like my whole community's right there, on my desktop, every time I open the laptop lid.
I don't want to keep my friends blissfully ignorant of this. Is there a more loving human impulse than the joy of sharing? I'm sorry, C. I'm sorry I was afraid of making your life harder. I remembered the local minimum and forgot the greater maxima awaiting you. Why keep us a "happy few" when we can be an ecstatic many? And yes, it's harder, to learn our principles and try to walk this path alone -- but the whole point of our principles is that our multitude, our diversity, our union, our communion is far richer and more sustaining than individual hoarding ever could be.
# 25 Mar 2011, 09:41AM: Some Short Online Scifi Recommendations:
"Saving Face" by Shelly Li and Ken Liu is light and sweet.
"Smaller Fleas that Bite 'Em" by rho is a short, funny sequel to Neal Stephenson's Zodiac: The Eco-Thriller.
"Sisters of Bilhah" by kel is a wrenching, immersive sequel to Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. As the summary says: Sisters of Bilhah is the largest registered charitable organisation in the UK working with asylum seekers and refugees who were citizens of the former United States of America.
"Source Decay" by Charlie Jane Anders is by turns funny, strange, and poignant.
And "(Rising Lion -- The Lion Bows)" by Zen Cho speaks to me as perfectly as if the author were next to me on this couch. My heartstrings turned into leashes and I willingly follow the author wherever she goes. (I fear my RSS feeds or blogging software will break if I try to copy the title with its Unicode characters intact; apologies.)
# 28 Mar 2011, 07:03PM: GNOME User Day This Thursday, 31 March:
As Allan put it: There are lots of enthusiastic GNOME users who have questions about the upcoming release, and there are plenty of people who are interested to hear about what GNOME 3 will be like. That's why I'm really pleased to be able to announce the first GNOME 3 User Day. This will be a great opportunity for people to get involved with the new release, to meet members of the GNOME project, and to find out what's in store in GNOME 3.
Well, that was for the first User Day. The next one is this Thursday, March 31st, in the #gnome channel of the GIMPNet IRC network. (Instructions for using Internet Relay Chat.) We'll be running three sessions over the course of the day (all times UTC):
Session 1 (07:00-08:00): Participate in the GNOME 3.0 hackfest
Hosts: Allan Day, Fred Peters, and Andre Klapper
Session 2 (15:00-16:00): The GNOME 3.0 platform
Hosts: Diego Escalante Urrelo and Luis Medinas
Session 3 (20:00-21:00): GNOME Shell Q & A
Hosts: Florian Mullner and Marina Zhurakhinskaya
I hope you'll join us! We'll be concentrating on those topics but feel free to drop in and ask about anything GNOME.
I used a photo from Sajith T S, CC BY-SA, of a park and fountains in Bangalore, because I hope we get a big crowd, because this User Day coincides with the Bangalore hackfest, and because information from friendly experts can be as welcome as water on a hot South Indian day.
# 28 Mar 2011, 07:35PM: Ada Initiative Survey:
I just took the five-minute survey on women in open tech & culture (a really inclusive definition). The Ada Initiative is surveying people of any gender in "a wide range of activities and communities based around free/open licenses, and other forms of open, decentralised, and grassroots participation in technology and related fields." If you're reading this and you're not related to me, you should probably go take it. It really does take less than five minutes, and this data is crucial so we can gauge how well we're doing now and how far we'll go in the next few years.
# 31 Mar 2011, 03:40PM: MediaWiki Accepting Google Summer of Code Applications:
Just posted on the Wikimedia tech blog: MediaWiki got accepted as a Google Summer of Code project, so we're looking for project ideas, mentors, and students. More details at the techblog post.
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