Radical Humanism

Tuesday 2014-02-11 16:00 -08:00

from the pivot dept.

As part of the change discussed in my previous post, Undoware – this blog – is now focused on the relationship between technology and the culture, rather than just technology and the user. We are expanding into territory that calls for different tools of analysis.

Poems, fiction, art, sketches, and composition are all now fair game. Those of you with an allergy to these will need to find another blog.

I will try to showcase not only my own work, but occasionally also the work of others, as well as links to anything interesting seen elsewhere. We will pay especially close attention to cryptography, Open Source, writing, politics, music, and gender.

I will also be adding a portfolio of my work specifically, including past failures. I have recently come around to the view that most failures occur because a previous failure was either misunderstood, or the wrong lessons were taken from it, often out of the anxiety and shame that necessarily follow failure. Addressing these emotions also helps avoid future error.


Snowden, Usability, and Institutional Analysis

Friday 2014-01-24 16:00 -08:00

from the pivot dept.

A landscape photo of a protest in Germany, where several people are wearing Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden masks.
A landscape photo of a protest in Germany, where several people are wearing Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden masks.
Mike Herbst (Berlin, Germany) for Wikimedia Commons, CC Attribution Sharealike 2.0 Unported

It’s been over half a year since my previous post.

I was going to tell you about the drive crash I had last summer, and how it wiped me out for a few months (never trust your backups, ever!) But the real reason I stopped writing is irrelevance. Let me explain.

When I started this blog, I wanted to promote usability advances. But while important, these don’t interest me nearly as much as what I began privately calling ‘socio-usability’, or the study of how usability is already being used to further specific policy goals. I read The Dictator’s Learning Curve, and independently began learning about institutional analysis. Thus I realized that ‘socio-usability’ already had a name.

And then Chelsea Manning’s trial happened. And the Snowden NSA revelations happened, and kept happening, like an enormous tuning fork of horror, ringing out its totalitarian message throughout the newfallen darkness. It took out groklaw, and I guess, in a much less noble way, myself as well. I stopped writing because I realized my whole chosen topic was beside the point.

I realized then that I needed to write about the relationship between social control, convenience, and user interface design. This field, when it does not specifically involve computer user interfaces, is called institutional analysis. Although it is standardly not interested in the works of traditional usability—it has roots in activism rather than captialism—it should be. It and UX theory have much to teach each other. I want to help with this.

I am also lucky enough to be working professionally in the NSA mitigation field: post-Snowden, my employer (who is, like me, Canadian) requested that I move several key systems in-house. I now make my bread improvising solutions to the massive holes the NSA has drilled in the network’s security system. This makes me proud, but also vividly aware of the significance of Snowden’s revelations.

Originally, this blog was concerned with one thing: The interface between humans and computers. But now we will open the spotlight slightly. We now focus on the relationship between humanity and computers. Call this ‘HCR’ if you like, but it’s really just institutional analysis, but pointed at the most contemporary manifestation of bureaucracy. This is a much more important conversation to have right now than traditional HCI. Who gives a crap how easily I can apply one of twenty-six distinct photographic effects to my Instagram snapshots, when it has just been announced that it is the NSA that is compiling the yearbook? Who wants to be the next Arar? We know now that the shenanigans begun by that administration continue uninterrupted. ‘Hope’ indeed.

Going forward, we have one agenda, one single article of faith: the network must be usable by humans. And human beings have human rights. Like privacy. Like personal security.

I’m with the leakers–and so are your interests, citizen, no matter what your personal politics might be. Onward.


Avoiding the Tragedy of the Open Source Commons (1997)

Monday 2013-07-29 23:01 -07:00

from the naked-baby-photos dept.

I wrote an editorial that got published on Slashdot in 1998, the year I left home for university. It was vaguely in reply to something Eric S Raymond wrote. (IIRC, he replied!)

My writing has mercifully improved, but you know what? I spotted something important, way back then: the incentives of Open Source favour endless forking. Fortunately, with the advent of git, forking became much cheaper for a FOSS project to deal with, as git makes patches easier to upstream. The huge glut of developers that emerged in the early ’00s also alleviated any developer scarcity brought about by ego-incentives. Thus the doom portended did not in fact tend. (Or whatever.)

The full text, in all its adolescent glory, after the jump.