Life and Code: a blog to follow

I’ve really been enjoying Lisa William’s blog titled “Life and Code” and think it’s a great one for your RSS reader every day. She started to blog to document her passage to a programmer who can toss together an app on a whim in a weekend and her background in online media and journalism makes for some great posts and links to follow.

The following is a quote from her, on her motivations to start coding (“Code to make a point; code to make change; on newshacking”, which resemble motivations that keep me wanting to continue code and to volunteer my skills:

I believe a program can stand in opposition to Things That Suck, just like a documentary, a work of art, or a protest march.  

That’s why I like work like this, which shows where the money goes when it comes to Congresscritters and their free cars.  

Or this, which is an Android app to help vets with PTSD.  

I wanna code because SHIT IS BROKEN.  I want to code because corruption is real, because people are getting thrown out of their houses, because veterans aren’t getting what they deserve, because racism is real and has real effects, because yes it does matter when you cancel a bus line, because it’s really hard to shut a computer program up, because you can’t say it’s an isolated incident when there’s a bigass Google Map in your face showing you it’s not.  

And journalism’s response to the biggest problems of our age — global warming, global health, economic crises — are, all too often, pathetic: he said/she said talking heads on TV, tearjerker anecdotes about one person who loses their house to a flood or rapaciously unethical lenders standing in for THE VAST TSUNAMI OF PEOPLE GETTING F**D OVER BY THESE THINGS.  No wonder facts just seem to bounce off so many Americans, and so many of the powerful are able to claim that nothing needs to be done when doing nothing suits their moneyed interests.  

Our age doesn’t just NEED computational journalism: it DEMANDS it. 

Recent highlights:

“Code to make a point; code to make change; on newshacking”

“Learning to Program for Journalists: The Epic HOWTO”

“Notable News Apps on Github”

Mind blowing TED talk on algorithms as a ‘3rd evolutionary force’

TED.com: Kevin Slavin: Kevin Slavin: How algorithms shape our world:

A visualization on the growth of public APIs and open data

GOOD: “Out in the Open”

Thank you CmdrTaco and Slashdot

Rob Malda and Slashdot have done more to establish working, successful patterns for others to follow in online communities on the Web that few others (Metafilter, IndyMedia, and Salon.com come immediately to mind), can match, and are recognized for. Everyone keeps re-inventing elements of what they established, and missing lessons they learned the hard way.

A huge thank you to them all, and a good luck on your next endeavors Rob “CmdrTaco” Malda. Slashdot the community, and Slashdot the idea, has been a huge influence in my life and helped to show the world that online communities on the Web can work and help people connect.

Related:

Wired.com: Slashdot’s CmdrTaco Looks Back at 10 Years of ‘News for Nerds’

What is “Fast Fashion”, how it relates to big data, Facebook and us

Speed. Data. Lack of security. Encouraged anxiety. What makes a self-identity? And… fashion, clothing retailers and social media. n+1 has an interesting read in: The Accidental Bricoleurs:

…As the fast in fast fashion implies, the companies’ comparative advantage lies in speed, not brand recognition, garment durability, or reputable design. They have changed fashion from a garment making to an information business, optimizing their supply chains to implement design tweaks on the fly. Zara “can design, produce, and deliver a new garment and put it on display in its stores worldwide in a mere 15 days,”2 and this flow of information is by far the most significant thing the company produces, far more important than any piped pinafore, velveteen blazer or any of its other 40,000 yearly items. The company’s system of constant information monitoring allows it to quickly spot and sate trends and at the same time largely avoid overproduction boondoggles and the need for heavy discounting.

Unlike earlier generations of mass-market retailers, like the Gap’s family of brands (which includes, in ascending order of class cachet, Old Navy, Gap, and Banana Republic), companies like Zara and Forever 21 make no effort to stratify their offerings into class-signifying labels. They also don’t adopt branding strategies to affiliate with particular luxe or ironic lifestyles, à la Urban Outfitters or Abercrombie & Fitch. Instead they flatter consumers in a different way, immersing them in potential trends on a near weekly basis and trusting them to assemble styles in their own images. Clothes reach stores with practically unspoiled semiotic potential, and consumers are invited to be expressive rather than imitative with the goods, to participate more directly in fashion. We become the meaning makers, enchanting ordinary cardigans and anoraks with a symbolic significance that has only a tenuous relationship to the material item. We work in lieu of advertisers to reconfigure trends and remix signifiers, generating new and valuable meanings for goods. The more new clothes come in, the more creative we can be.

Fast-fashion retailers reap the fruits of that creativity by capturing our preferences in successive generations of products and nearly synchronizing to our whims. Thanks to the rich data we generate as we select, reject, and recombine the items fast fashion offers, the companies need not develop their own brands so much as seize upon customers’ ingenuity, distilling their choices into easily replicable trends and rushing the resulting products to market. If fashion functions like a language, then the fast-fashion firms are mainly interested controlling the underlying system and leave the meaning of the “words” to interchangeable designers and individual consumers. As long as customers are willing to speak fast fashion’s language, the companies aren’t particular about the specifics of the vocabulary. They are concerned only with the rate and volume of change.

…Like fast fashion, social media have brought with them a profusion of means and ways to reshape and display our identity. Constantly given new tools to share with, always prompted to say something new about ourselves (“What’s on your mind?” Facebook asks thoughtfully), we are pressured to continually devise ingenious solutions to our identity, which suddenly appears to be a particular kind of recurring problem: one that can be solved by replenishing social media’s various channels with fresh content. Just as fast fashion seeks to pressure shoppers with the urgency of now or never, social media hope to convince us that we always have something new and important to say—as long as we say it right away. And they are designed to make us feel anxious and left out if we don’t say it, as their interfaces favor the users who update frequently and tend to make less engaged users disappear. One can easily fall out of fashion with the algorithms Facebook uses to select which content users see out of the plethora of material friends in their network contribute.

…In social media, where everyone can employ design ideology, the persistent messages of advertising—that magical self-transformation through purchases is possible, that one’s inner truth can be expressed through the manipulation of well-worked surfaces—become practical rather than insulting. Not only do the methods and associative logic of advertising become more concretely useful, but its governing ideology no longer seems conformist but radically individualistic. Social media encourage us to appropriate whatever we want and claim it as our own without feeling derivative or slavishly imitative. On Facebook, if I link to, say, a YouTube video of Bob Dylan singing “I Threw It All Away” on the Johnny Cash Show in 1969, I am saying something particular about myself, not merely consuming the performance. I am declaring that video clip to be essentially equivalent to an update I may have written about a trip to Philadelphia or to pictures of me at a party that someone might have tagged. It is all bricolage for personal identity building.

It is a long, but thought provoking read. Go read it.

Related Metafilter thread: “The Total-Corporate State May Have Arrived”.

You want to know this: why your posts on Facebook don’t get read

Take two scenarios: Something horrifically bad happens. You decide to share it on Facebook expecting your friends to see it. Then you get just a couple of comments, and you worry why so few care.

Or lets say you have a politically diverse group of friends on Facebook, and you post something to get the notice of those that don’t share your view, but no cross conversation happens. You’re left thinking that those ‘on the other side’ ‘just don’t get it’ or are ‘elitist’ or are ‘stupid’.

You maybe a victim of your own fine tuned Filter Bubble. Or your friends. The Filter Bubble is what Eli Pariser calls the effect you experience by an Internet, filtered by your profile, by unseen algorithms, in an attempt to get you to click on what you are most likely to click. It puts convenience and instant gratification ahead of shared experience.

I’d argue that filters are a boon (a search on Google for “Java” from me *should* provide results biased towards the programming language instead of coffee or the region) but Pariser’s points need to be shouted from rooftops because along with the terrific convenience and responsiveness, something important is taking place, we are mostly unaware, and the consequences could be severe.

Don’t take it from me. Watch Eli Pariser’s talk at TED.com: Beware online “filter bubbles”:

Related Links:

Boing Boing: “The Filter Bubble: how personalization changes society”

Metafilter: “Filter Bubbles”

Nick Judd at the Personal Democracy Forum asks in The Filter Bubble and the News You Need To Know: if you want to create a search tool that finds the news you need to know, rather than the news you want to read, where do you begin?

Mike Elgan at Computer World offers suggestions on popping your filter bubble.

There is a blog and book focused on the Filter Bubble.

“Why new internet and software architecture will define the future of society”

Lots of thought provoking bits to think about in Thomas Bjelkeman’s post: “Law is hard. Code is harder. Why new internet and software architecture will define the future of society”

If you combine the thought that our communications infrastructure is going to start dictate how we think about the world with what Laurence Lessig says: “The Code is the Law”. Then a number of things which are going on in the world today can be seen in a very different perspective than what you see in your average newspaper opinion piece.

…Imagine actually managing the lawmaking process in Github, with actual contributors and their affiliation clearly marked. Revisions tracked and open to view for all. The current residents of the corridors of power would never let that happen. But maybe it doesn’t matter, because the law is moving into the code.

…I think that it is fairly clear that information architecture changes how society works, and maybe it changes it in bigger ways and faster than “those in charge” anticipate. Which is why I have stopped saying you have to be a politician to change how things work. A hacker can be just as powerful, if not more so.

Read the speech instead of letting pundits summarize it for you

Text of Obama Speech on the Deficit – Washington Wire – WSJ.

An open data challenge from Anil Dash

Anil Dash: “The Health Graph: Mortal Threats & Signs of Life”:

As a community of developers and technologists, we have to build powerful, indispensable apps and services on top of this data. Killer apps that save lives. If we can make ourselves invaluable, they won’t have the chance to try to cut off our oxygen.

Recent Space-X on NPR highlights how little we read

A story is posted about a private company working to build the largest capacity lifter in service and what do a significant number of commentors fret about?

That the government is wasting its money on building it!

It is pretty clear that most of those who are commenting that way have not read (or worst – understood) the story, but the ‘private company’ part was highlighted in the summary.

Check it out – NPR.org (on Facebook): Plans For World’s Most Powerful Rocket Unveiled

Sad, huh?

But don’t you think there are multiple failures taking place exemplified here? And where do you feel they stem from?