Archive of April 2015

Where Are the Female Lit Mag Editors? Here.

Danielle Lazarin:

As a woman, I like to see as many women as far up on mastheads as possible and then to do something with the information I’ve gathered.

Proud to see Midnight Breakfast on this list, alongside so many other great publications.

Kinda wish she’d mentioned Rebecca (and the others) by name, but whatever. (For that matter, I also wish that the VIDA Count folks—awesome as they are—would make their data more open and accessible.)

Standardization and the Open Web

Jory Burson:

In the absence of community coordination, methodless enthusiasm will ensue—and caught somewhere in the Bermuda triangle of competing standards bodies, implementers, and OSS maintainers is the developer community. If we want our community-driven projects to become official, internationally recognized standards, we need to understand the impact of our governance processes as well as we understand the technical specifications for our technologies.

Even though I’ve been sitting/standing around defending the open and standards-based approach to governance over the web this week, I sometimes just take a step back and go “Ugh.”

Too Many Books?

Tim Parks goes into greater historical depth than I’ve seen elsewhere regarding the rising tides of available reading material (and attendant sense of overwhelm along with accompanying apocalyptic commentary).

If you’ve already got too much to read, skip to the end:

How to respond, then, to this now permanent condition of overproduction? With cheerful skepticism. With gratitude for those rare occasions when we come across a book that speaks to us personally. With forgiveness for those critics and publishers who induce us to waste our time with some literary flavor of the day. Absolutely without indignation, since none of this is anyone’s particular “fault.” Above all with a sense of wonder and curiosity at the general and implacable human determination (mine included) to fill endless space with dubious mental material when life is short and there are so many other things to be done.

Mine too, albeit somewhat more sporadically.

Medieval Technology, Indistinguishable from Magic

Elly Truitt:

And yet, although medieval Europeans had figured out how to build the same kinds of complex automata that people in other places had been designing and constructing for centuries, they did not stop believing in preternatural causes. They merely added ‘mechanical’ to the list of possible explanations.

Designing for Disability

Amy Merrick:

The cane soon became a source of self-consciousness. “My eyeglasses would get compliments,” she told me, “but my cane would get a funny tilt of the head from people, as if they were thinking, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ” For months, she was despondent. One thing that helped her recovery was finding a purple cane, while browsing online, to replace her drab, hospital-issued one. “I went from walking hunched down, wanting to hide, to actually being proud of it,” she said. Sometime afterward, she was shopping at J.Crew, her favorite store, and it occurred to her that her cane would look beautiful with the brand’s Kelly-green T-shirts. That led her to begin asking J.Crew, through e-mails, blog posts, and open letters published on Facebook and Twitter, if it would sell a fashionable cane—to broaden its customer reach and to help ease the stigma attached to assistive devices.

I’m still getting used to Apple as a fashion brand. But the idea of intersecting fashion, design, and technology with accessibility (beyond the usual software-level accessibility)? Fascinating.

A Comforting Lie

Daniel Rutter on a less-well-known skeuomorph:

Comfort noise is a fake hiss that your mobile phone, your VoIP phone, your corporate digital phone system, whatever, creates to mask the silences between talkspurts. That hiss isn’t actually coming down the line, from some analogue amplifier and hundreds of kilometres of copper; it’s created independently at each end by kindly computers.

I Can Text You A Pile of Poo, But I Can’t Write My Name

Aditya Mukerjee digs into the problems inherent in having our digital representations of language governed by an elite group whose dues are expensive, comprised of predominantly white, predominantly male, predominantly American and Western European members.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has written, ‘The subaltern cannot speak’. They are structurally prohibited from having any dialogue – even an unbalanced one – with the very powers that oppress them. Access to digital tools that respect our languages is crucial to communicating in the Internet age. The power to control the written word is the ability both to amplify voices and to silence them. Anyone with this power must wield it with caution.

The makeup of the Unicode Consortium is available to the public, so there is at least some transparency there. In some ways, this strikes me as closer to how French or German are governed as languages.

I generally imagine that I prefer that there isn’t really a “standard” English, allowing for a flexibility in “correctness” which I feel is valuable to the me as a speaker and as a writer.

Of course, there really is a standard, it’s just harder to pin down because there’s no one organization or website devoted to it. But it’s still there, and structurally just as problematic as the Unicode Consortium, but without any of the transparency. David Foster Wallace captured it in Tense Present:

I don’t know whether anybody’s told you this or not, but when you’re in a college English class you’re basically studying a foreign dialect. This dialect is called ‘Standard Written English. … From talking with you and reading your essays, I’ve concluded that your own primary dialect is [one of three variants of SBE common to our region]. Now, let me spell something out in my official Teacher-voice: The SBE you’re fluent in is different from SWE in all kinds of important ways. Some of these differences are grammatical — for example, double negatives are OK in Standard Black English but not in SWE, and SBE and SWE conjugate certain verbs in totally different ways. Other differences have more to do with style — for instance, Standard Written English tends to use a lot more subordinate clauses in the early parts of sentences, and it sets off most of these early subordinates with commas, and, under SWE rules, writing that doesn’t do this is “choppy.” There are tons of differences like that. How much of this stuff do you already know?

I’m respecting you enough here to give you what I believe is the straight truth. In this country, SWE is perceived as the dialect of education and intelligence and power and prestige, and anybody of any race, ethnicity, religion, or gender who wants to succeed in American culture has got to be able to use SWE. This is How It Is. You can be glad about it or sad about it or deeply pissed off. You can believe it’s racist and unjust and decide right here and now to spend every waking minute of your adult life arguing against it, and maybe you should, but I’ll tell you something: If you ever want those arguments to get listened to and taken seriously, you’re going to have to communicate them in SWE, because SWE is the dialect our country uses to talk to itself. African Americans who’ve become successful and important in U.S. culture know this; that’s why King’s and X’s and Jackson’s speeches are in SWE, and why Morrison’s and Angelou’s and Baldwin’s and Wideman’s and West’s books are full of totally ass-kicking SWE, and why black judges and politicians and journalists and doctors and teachers communicate professionally in SWE. Some of these people grew up in homes and communities where SWE was the native dialect, and these black people had it much easier in school, but the ones who didn’t grow up with SWE realized at some point that they had to learn it and become able to write in it, and so they did. And [INSERT NAME HERE], you’re going to learn to use it, too, because I am going to make you.

The Illusion of Free

Laura Kalbag:

Our data is out of our control. We might (wisely or unwisely) choose to publicly share our statuses, personal information, media and locations, or we might choose to only share this data with our friends. But it’s just an illusion of choice—however we share, we’re exposing ourselves to a wide audience. We have so much more to worry about than future employers seeing photos of us when we’ve had too much to drink.

Choire Sicha on Jon Ronson’s ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’

Absent reading this review, I don’t think I would have gotten this update regarding Adria Richards:

Along these lines, one of the most captivating stories in the history of the Internet involves an incident that, happily, Ronson covers in depth. At a developer conference, two dudes, “Hank” and Alex, were cracking mildly off-color jokes to each ­other. Adria Richards, a woman sitting in front of them, photographed them and reported them to organizers. They explained the situation and were released. She tweeted and blogged about it. Hank was fired, then apologized in a public forum. The website of the company where Richards worked was forced down; then she was fired as well. Hank got a new job right away. ­Richards did not. Instead she spent a year fielding rape and murder threats.

But how, Ronson wonders, had Hank’s relationship with women developers changed since the incident? “Well,” Hank tells him. “We don’t have any female developers at the place I’m working at now. So.”

Of course. Of course “We don’t have any female developers at the place I’m working at now.”

As for Richards:

At the same time, Adria ­Richards opened up on Twitter. She had submitted 120 incidents of abuse to Twitter, she wrote — in a single week. They did nothing. ­After selling her furniture on Craigslist and moving out of her apartment, she found a therapist with ­experience in PTSD. She was still jobless, nearly two years later, but in February, she announced she had applied for a job — in the user safety and security department at Twitter. She didn’t sound as if she’d be holding her breath for an interview.

Choire sticks the landing:

The experience of women online is the great link between speech and ­violence, between offense and abuse. For women — and for all gender ­offenders, from gays to trans people — insult and the threat of murder are issued simultaneously. Like almost every other book, then, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” would probably have been handled better by a woman.