blarg?

April 22, 2021

Humblebrag Selfie

Filed under: awesome,future,life,vendetta — mhoye @ 10:22 am

Humblebrag selfie.

I had to ride out for an urgent cross-town delivery yesterday, and after blowing through 15km of fogged-out greyscale city like a fast ghost I found myself in a dimly lit elevator thinking to myself, self, maybe you did get to be that William-Gibson movie extra you wanted to be. Good work, self.

April 16, 2021

Synthetic Intelligence

Filed under: future,interfaces,lunacy,microfiction — mhoye @ 12:34 pm

Droplets

Already, the children of Earth were the most terrifying creatures in the galaxy. They became the stuff of horror stories, nightly warnings told to children; huge, hulking, brutish things, that hacked and slashed and stabbed and shot and burned and survived, that built monstrous metal things that rumbled across the landscape and blasted buildings to ruin.

All that preserved us was their lack of space flight. In their obsession with murdering one another, the humans had locked themselves into a rigid framework of physics that thankfully omitted the equations necessary to achieve interstellar travel.

They became our bogeymen. Locked away in their prison planet, surrounded by a cordon of non-interference, prevented from ravaging the galaxy only by their own insatiable need to kill one another. Gruesome and terrible, yes – but at least we were safe.

Or so we thought.

The cities were called Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the moment of their destruction, the humans unlocked a destructive force greater than any of us could ever have believed possible. It was at that moment that those of us who studied their technology knew their escape to be inevitable, and that no force in the universe could have hoped to stand against them.

The first human spacecraft were… exactly what we should have expected them to be. There were no elegant solar wings, no sleek, silvered hulls plying the ocean of stars. They did not soar on the stellar currents. They did not even register their existence. Humanity flew in the only way it could: on all-consuming pillars of fire, pounding space itself into submission with explosion after explosion. Their ships were crude, ugly, bulky things, huge slabs of metal welded together, built to withstand the inconceivable forces necessary to propel themselves into space through violence alone.

It was almost comical. The huge, dumb brutes simply strapped an explosive to their backs and let it throw them off of the planet.

I keep thinking about the intersection of the “Humans are terrifying, humans are in fact Space Orcs, (or Space Fae?) stories about how humans clearly the most dangerous and/or blessed aliens out there by far” stories that periodically bubble up out of Tumblr, and the somewhat painful realization that the Star Trek series is secretly a hidden prequel to Iain Banks culture novels, by dint of the whole Hidden Strong AI Everywhere issue.

There’s obviously a lot about Star Trek series that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny, but here’s the thing: despite all their hemming and hawing about how Lt. Data was a unique and special synthetic intelligence, about how purely inorganic sentience is this rare thing, the fact of it is that moment LaForge asks the computer for “an adversary worthy of Data”, the Holodeck delivers a whole-ass, self-aware metasentient sentient synthetic intelligence running on their local computation strata in the form of Professor Moriarty, at the cost of… a few moments of processor flex. And apart from that momentary CPU spike, exactly nobody so much as remarked on it.

The implication is that human starship-class systems – and in all likelihood any and probably every human system bigger than a tricorder – are at the very least self aware and almost certainly suprasentient. And from the perspective of any other guest or adjacent culture watching the humans bumble around the universe while this is happening right in their laps, this must be astonishingly terrifying. Put aside the fact of humans are these unstoppable biological engines that brew up toxic chemical propellants so they can drink them for fun, eat chemical weapons purely for the sensation, fart methane by accident and can walk off a gunshot; they travel the stars in the company of gods they’ve built for their own amusement and… they don’t even talk about it?

Imagine the discussion, at the Galactic Council Meeting:

“The humans, we know the humans, but somehow we didn’t know this. As monstrous their history, as terrifying their physiologies, as – dare I say it – fundamentally alien their notions, in our most desperate hours they have appeared as allies, engineers, champions. Among our largest galactic cohabitants, their presence is considered a mysterious if ominous blessing, for our smallest they are – bafflingly, for no motive we can discern – a sword, shield and loyal ally. But… this? How could we have known, or understood, this?”

“Set aside their terrifying predilections, their monstrous history, the absurd resilience of their physiology. They travel the stars cradled in the arms of idle gods of their own devising and this is so unremarkable, so commonplace to them that they not only rarely remark on it, but they rarely so much as notice? How could we have even suspected this? What can we do? About this, about them? What could we do, but play along?”

February 10, 2021

Text And Context

Filed under: awesome,documentation,future,interfaces,lunacy,vendetta,weird,work — mhoye @ 4:02 pm

Memetic

This image is a reference to the four-square Drake template – originally Drake holding up a hand and turning away from something disapprovingly in the top half, while pointing favorably to something else in the lower half – featuring Xzibit rather than Drake, himself meme-famous for “yo dawg we heard you like cars, so we put a car in your car so you can drive while you drive”, to whose recursive nature this image is of course an homage. In the upper left panel, Xzibit is looking away disappointedly from the upper right, which contains a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder of the biblical Tower Of Babel. In the lower left, Xzibit is now looking favorably towards an image of another deeply nested meme.

This particular meme features the lead singer from Nickelback holding up a picture frame, a still from the video of their song “Photograph”. The “you know I had to do it to ’em” guy is in the distant background. Inside, the frame is cut in four by a two-axis graph, with “authoritarian/libertarian” on the Y axis and “economic-left/economic-right” on the X axis, overlaid with the words “young man, take the breadsticks and run, I said young man, man door hand hook car gun“, a play on both an old bit about bailing out of a bad conversation while stealing breadsticks, the lyrics to The Village People’s “YMCA”, and adding “gun” to the end of some sentence to shock its audience. These lyrics are arranged within those four quadrants in a visual reference to “loss.jpg”, a widely derided four-panel webcomic from 2008.

Taken as a whole the image is an oblique comment on the Biblical “Tower Of Babel” reference, specifically Genesis 11, in which “… the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” and the proliferation of deeply nested and frequently incomprehensible memes as a form of explicitly intra-generational communication.

So, yeah, there’s a lot going on in there.

I asked about using alt-text for captioning images like that in a few different forums the other day, to learn what the right thing is with respect to memes or jokes. If the image is the joke, is it useful (or expected) that the caption is written to try to deliver the joke, rather than be purely descriptive?

On the one hand, I’d expect you want the punchline to land, but I also want the caption to be usable and useful, and I assume that there are cultural assumptions and expectations in this space that I’m unaware of.

As intended, the question I asked wasn’t so much about “giving away” the punchline as it is about ensuring its delivery; either way you have to give away the joke, but does an image description phrased as a joke help, or hinder (or accidentally insult?) its intended audience?

I’m paraphrasing, but a few of the answers all said sort of the same useful and insightful thing: “The tool is the description of the image; the goal is to include people in the conversation. Use the tool to accomplish the goal.”

Which I kind of love.

And in what should not have stopped surprising me ages ago but still but consistently does, I was reminded that accessibility efforts support people far outside their intended audience. In this case, maybe that description makes the joke accessible to people who have perfectly good eyesight but haven’t been neck deep in memetics since they can-hazzed their first cheezeburgers and don’t quite know why this deep-fried, abstract level-nine metareference they’re seeing is hilarious.

December 9, 2020

A Three Shells Moment

Filed under: a/b,future,interfaces,weird — mhoye @ 1:06 pm

Having a three shells moment.


I had an odd moment at the grocery store.

March 28, 2020

Magnanimosity

Filed under: a/b,documentation,fail,future,losers,lunacy,vendetta — mhoye @ 2:04 pm



March 6, 2020

Brace For Impact

I don’t spend a lot of time in here patting myself on the back, but today you can indulge me.

In the last few weeks it was a ghost town, and that felt like a victory. From a few days after we’d switched it on to Monday, I could count the number of human users on any of our major channels on one hand. By the end, apart from one last hurrah the hour before shutdown, there was nobody there but bots talking to other bots. Everyone – the company, the community, everyone – had already voted with their feet.

About three weeks ago, after spending most of a month shaking out some bugs and getting comfortable in our new space we turned on federation, connecting Mozilla to the rest of the Matrix ecosystem. Last Monday we decommissioned IRC.Mozilla.org for good, closing the book on a 22-year-long chapter of Mozilla’s history as we started a new one in our new home on Matrix.

I was given this job early last year but the post that earned it, I’m guessing, was from late 2018:

I’ve mentioned before that I think it’s a mistake to think of federation as a feature of distributed systems, rather than as consequence of computational scarcity. But more importantly, I believe that federated infrastructure – that is, a focus on distributed and resilient services – is a poor substitute for an accountable infrastructure that prioritizes a distributed and healthy community. […] That’s the other part of federated systems we don’t talk about much – how much the burden of safety shifts to the individual.

Some inside baseball here, but if you’re wondering: that’s why I pushed back on the idea of federation from the beginning, for all invective that earned me. That’s why I refused to include it as a requirement and held the line on that for the entire process. The fact that on classically-federated systems distributed access and non-accountable administration means that the burden of personal safety falls entirely on the individual. That’s not a unique artifact of federated systems, of course – Slack doesn’t think you should be permitted to protect yourself either, and they’re happy to wave vaguely in the direction of some hypothetical HR department and pretend that keeps their hands clean, as just one example of many – but it’s structurally true of old-school federated systems of all stripes. And bluntly, I refuse to let us end up in a place where asking somebody to participate in the Mozilla project is no different from asking them to walk home at night alone.

And yet here we are, opting into the Fediverse. It’s not because I’ve changed my mind.

One of the strongest selling points of Matrix is the combination of powerful moderation and safety tooling that hosting organizations can operate with robust tools for personal self-defense available in parallel. Critically, these aren’t half-assed tools that have been grafted on as an afterthought; they’re first-class features, robust enough that we can not only deploy them with confidence, but can reasonably be held accountable by our colleagues and community for their use. In short, we can now have safe, accountable infrastructure that complements, rather than comes at the cost, of individual user agency.

That’s not the best thing, though, and I’m here to tell you about my favorite Matrix feature that nobody knows about: Federated auto-updating blocklist sharing.

If you decide you trust somebody else’s decisions, at some other organization – their judgment calls about who is and is not welcome there – those decisions can be immediately and automatically reflected in your own. When a site you trust drops the hammer on some bad actor that ban can be adopted almost immediately by your site and your community as well. You don’t have to have ever seen that person or have whatever got them banned hit you in the eyes. You don’t even need to know they exist. All you need to do is decide you trust that other site judgment and magically someone persona non grata on their site is precisely that grata on yours.

Another way to say that is: among people or communities who trust each other in these decisions, an act of self-defense becomes, seamlessly and invisibly, an act of collective defense. No more everyone needing to fight their own fights alone forever, no more getting isolated and picked off one at a time, weakest first; shields-up means shields-up for everyone. Effective, practical defensive solidarity; it’s the most important new idea I’ve seen in social software in years. Every federated system out should build out their own version, and it’s very clear to me, at least, that is going to be the table stakes of a federated future very soon.

So I feel pretty good about where we’ve ended up, and where we’re going.

In the long term, I see that as the future of Mozilla’s responsibility to the Web; not here merely to protect the Web, not merely to defend your freedom to participate in the Web, but to mount a positive defense of people’s opportunities to participate. And on the other side of that coin, to build accountable tools, systems and communities that promise not only freedom from arbitrary harassment, but even freedom from the possibility of that harassment.

I’ve got a graph here that’s pointing up and to the right, and it’s got nothing to do with scraping fractions of pennies out of rageclicks and misery; just people making a choice to go somewhere better, safer and happier. Maybe, just maybe, we can salvage this whole internet thing. Maybe all is not yet lost, and the future is not yet written.

February 20, 2020

Synchronous Messaging: We’re Live.

Filed under: digital,documentation,future,irc,mozilla,vendetta,work — mhoye @ 5:15 pm

Untitled

After a nine month leadup, chat.mozilla.org, our Matrix-based replacement for IRC, has been up running for about a month now.

While we’ve made a number of internal and community-facing announcements about progress, access and so forth, we’ve deliberately run this as a quiet, cautious, low-key rollout, letting our communities find their way to chat.m.o and Matrix organically while we sort out the bugs and rough edges of this new experience.

Last week we turned on federation, the last major step towards opening Mozilla to the wider Matrix ecosystem, and it’s gone really well. Which means that as of last week, Mozilla’s transition from IRC to Matrix is within arm’s reach of done.

The Matrix team have been fantastic partners throughout this process, open to feedback and responsive to concerns throughout. It’s been a great working relationship, and as investments of effort go one that’s already paying off exactly the way want our efforts to pay off, with functional, polish and accessibility improvements that benefit the entire Matrix ecosystem coming from the feedback from the Mozilla community.

We still have work to do, but this far into the transition it sure feels like winning. The number of participants in our primary development channels has already exceeded their counterparts on IRC at their most active, and there’s no sign that’s slowing down. Many of our engineering and ops teams are idling or archiving their Slack channels and have moved entirely to Matrix, and that trend isn’t slowing down either.

As previously announced, we’re on schedule to turn off IRC.m.o at the end of the month, and don’t see a reason to reconsider that decision. So far, it looks like we’re pretty happy on the new system. It’s working well for us.

So: Welcome. If you’re new to Mozilla or would like to get involved, come see us in the #Introduction channel on our shiny new Matrix system. I hope to see you there.

December 26, 2019

Intrasective Subversions

I often wonder where we’d be if Google had spent their don’t-be-evil honeymoon actually interviewing people for some sort moral or ethical framework instead of teaching a generation of new hires that the important questions are all about how many piano tuners play ping pong on the moon.

You might have seen the NYTimes article on hypertargeted product placement, one of those new magical ideas that look totally reasonable in an industry where CPU cycles are cheap and principles are expensive.

I just wanted to make sure we all understood that one extremely intentional byproduct of that will breathe new life into the old documnent-canary trick of tailoring sensitive text with unique punctuation or phrasing in particularly quotable passages to identify leakers, and has been purpose-built as a way to precision-target torrent seeders or anyone else who shares media. “We only showed this combination of in-product signal to this specific person, therefore they’re the guilty party” is where this is going, and that’s not an accident.

The remedy, of course, is going to be cooperation. Robust visual diffs, scene hashes and smart muting (be sure to refer to They Live for placeholder inspiration) will be more than enough to fuzz out discoverability for even a moderately-sized community. As it frequently is, the secret ingredient is smart people working together.

In any case, I’m sure that all right thinking people can agree that ads are the right place to put graffiti. So I’m looking forward to all the shows that are turned into hijacked art-project torrents the moment they’re released, and seeing

THEY LIVE
THEY LAUGH
THEY LOVE

in the background of the pirated romcoms of 2021.

December 19, 2019

Over The Line

IMG_1500044662340

[ This first appeared over on the Mozilla community discourse forums. ]

You can scroll down to the punchline if you like, but I want to start by thanking the Mozilla community, contributors, industry partners and colleagues alike, for the work everyone has put into this. Hundreds of invested people have weighed in on our hard requirements, nice-to-haves and long term goals, and tested our candidates with an eye not just to our immediate technical and community needs but to Mozilla’s mission, our tools as an expression of our values and a vision of a better future. Having so many people show up and give a damn has a rewarding, inspiring experience, and I’m grateful for the trust and patience everyone involved has shown us in helping us get this over the line.

We knew from the beginning that this was going to be a hard process; that it had to be not just transparent but open, not just legitimate but seen to be legitimate, that we had to meet our hard operational requirements while staying true to our values in the process. Today, after almost a year of research, consulting, gathering requirements, testing candidate stacks and distilling everything we’ve learned in the process down to the essentials, I think we’ve accomplished that.

I am delighted and honored to say that we have one candidate that unambiguously meets our institutional and operational needs: we have decided to replace IRC with Riot/Matrix, hosted by Modular.IM.

While all of the candidates proved to be excellent team collaboration and communication tools, Riot/Matrix has distinguished itself as an excellent open community collaboration tool, with robust support for accessibility and community safety that offers more agency and autonomy to the participants, teams and communities that make up Mozilla.

That Matrix gives individual community members effective tools for both reporting violations of Mozilla’s Community Participation Guidelines (“CPG”) and securing their own safety weighed heavily in our decision-making. While all of the candidates offered robust, mature APIs that would meet the needs of our developer, infrastructure and developer productivity teams, Riot/Matrix was the only candidate that included CPG reporting and enforcement tooling as a standard part of their offering, offering individual users the opportunity to raise their own shields on their own terms as well as supporting the general health and safety of the community.

Riot/Matrix was also the preferred choice of our accessibility team. Mozilla is committed to building a company, a community and a web without second class citizens, and from the beginning the accessibility team’s endorsement was a hard requirement for this process.

Speaking personally, it is an enormous relief that we weren’t forced to make “pick-two” sort of choice between community safety, developer support and accessibility, and it is a testament to the hard work the Matrix team has done that we can have all three.

Now that we’ve made our decision and formalized our relationship with the Modular.IM team, we’ll be standing up the new service in January. Soon after that we’ll start migrating tooling and forums over to the new system, and as previously mentioned no later than March of next year, we’ll shut down IRC.mozilla.org.

Thank you all for your help getting us here; I’m looking forward to seeing you on the new system.

– mhoye

December 17, 2019

Poor Craft

Filed under: future,interfaces,linux,microfiction,toys,want,weird,work — mhoye @ 1:53 pm

Ghosting

“It’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools” is an old line, and it took me a long time to understand it.

[ https://www.youtube.com/embed/ShEez0JkOF ]

A friend of mine sent me this talk. And while I want to like it a lot, it reminded me uncomfortably of Dabblers and Blowhards, the canon rebuttal to “Hackers And Painters”, an early entry in Paul Graham’s long-running oeuvre elaborating how special and magical it is to be just like Paul Graham.

It’s surprisingly hard to pin Paul Graham down on the nature of the special bond he thinks hobbyist programmers and painters share. In his essays he tends to flit from metaphor to metaphor like a butterfly, never pausing long enough to for a suspicious reader to catch up with his chloroform jar. […] You can safely replace “painters” in this response with “poets”, “composers”, “pastry chefs” or “auto mechanics” with no loss of meaning or insight. There’s nothing whatsoever distinctive about the analogy to painters, except that Paul Graham likes to paint, and would like to feel that his programming allows him a similar level of self-expression.

There’s an old story about Soundcloud (possibly Spotify? DDG tends to the literal these days and Google is just all chaff) that’s possibly apocryphal but too good not to turn into a metaphor, about how for a long time their offices were pindrop-quiet. About how during that rapid-growth phase they hired people in part for their love of and passion for music, and how that looked absolutely reasonable until they realized their people didn’t love music: they loved their music. Your music, obviously, sucks. So everyone there wears fantastic headphones, nobody actually talks to each other, and all you can hear is in their office is keyboard noise and the HVAC.

I frequently wonder if the people who love Lisp or Smalltalk fall into that same broad category: that they don’t “love Lisp” so much as they love their Lisp, the Howl’s Moving Memory Palaces they’ve built for themselves, tailored to the precise cut of their own idiosyncracies. That if you really dig in and ask them you’ll find that other people’s Lisp, obviously, sucks.

It seems like an easy trap to fall in to, but I suspect it means we collectively spend a lot of time genuflecting this magical yesteryear and its imagined perfect crystal tools when the fact of it is that we spend almost all of our time in other people’s code, not our own.

I feel similarly about Joel Spolsky’s notion of “leaky abstractions”; maybe those abstractions aren’t “leaking” or “failing”. Instead it’s that you’ve found the point where your goals, priorities or assumptions have diverged from those of the abstraction’s author, and that’s ultimately not a problem with the abstraction.

The more time I spend in front of a keyboard, the more I think my core skills here aren’t any more complicated than humility, empathy and patience; that if you understand its authors the code will reveal itself. I’ve mentioned before that programming is, a lot more than most people realize, inherently political. You’re making decisions about how to allocate scarce resources in ways that affect other people; there’s no other word for it. So when you’re building on other people’s code, you’re inevitably building on their assumptions and values as well, and if that’s true – that you spend most of your time as a programmer trying to work with other people’s values and decisions – then it’s guaranteed that it’s a lot more important to think about how to best spend that time, or optimize those tools and interactions, rather than championing tools that amount to applied reminiscence, a nostalgia with a grammar. In any other context we’d have a term for that, we’d recognize it for what it is, and it’s unflattering.

What does a programming language optimized for ease-of-collaboration or even ease-of-empathy look like, I wonder? What does that development environment do, and how many of our assumptions about best collaborative practices are just accidental emergent properties of the shortcomings of our tools? Maybe compiler pragmas up front as expressions of preferred optimizations, and therefore priorities? Culture-of-origin tags, demarking the shared assumptions of developers? “Reds and yellows are celebratory colors here, recompile with western sensibilities to swap your alert and default palettes with muted blues/greens.” Read, Eval, Print looping feels for all its usefulness like a huge missed opportunity, an evolutionary dead end that was just the best model we could come up with forty years ago, and maybe we’ve accidentally spent a lot of time looking backwards without realizing it.

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