I don’t get Mailblocks

And the other services that require human intervention before an email address is whitelisted.
Don’t folks realize that they have anti-network effects? They’ll work for the first few people who use them. But what happens when a mailblock bounce comes back to another mailblock service?
People will have to wait for the singularity to get their email.

The Geography of Thought

I’ve wondered idly whether the naming game between adults and infants was universal, or culturally-specific. It turns out that Western children learn nouns faster than verbs “that’s a ball. see, ball” and East Asian children learn verbs just as fast.
Richard Nisbett’s “The Geography of Thought” includes a variety of experimental evidence showing how East Asians and Westerners think differently.
When shown pictures of a cow, a chicken, and some grass westerners are more likely to group the cow and the chicken, while East Asians are more likely to group the cow and the grass. Westerners are more likely to organize things in categories, while Asians are more likely to organize by relationship (the cow eats grass).
Westerners perceive things as objects (a bowl), easterners as substances (wood). Westerners will group a wooden bown and a silver bowl; easterners will group a wooden bowl and a wooden spoon. Westerners more likely to group items by rule, Easterners by similarity. Westerners are more likely to attribute human behavior to essential traits, Easterners to social context.
Some of the differences covered in the book are well-known — the individualism of the west, compared to eastern group identity. Western culture — particularly US culture — thrives on debate, while East Asian cultures value harmony.
The book seems naive at times — ancient Chinese images of bucolic scenes are taken as typical of Chinese life, rather than as conventional subjects of art, produced (I don’t know, but guessing) for the wealthy. The book makes broad-brush assumptions about how East Asians are content with the hierarchical structures of their societies, an assumption that’s falsifiable with the barest minimal familiarity with literature.
The most compelling evidence in the book was about low-level thought constructs that one might think are universal but aren’t.

California bans touch-screen voting

Last Friday, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley decertified all touch-screen voting machines in the State of California.
As Kim Vetter reported in Wired Magazine,

Counties will not be able to purchase any new e-voting machines unless the machines can produce a voter-verified paper trail that voters can use to authenticate that their vote was recorded accurately. This pushes up a previous deadline Shelley put forth in December when he mandated that all new voting machines purchased after June 2005 would have to produce a paper trail.

The last straw was the dodgy activity by Diebold (which serves El Paso County among others). In Kim Vetter’s words at Wired, “Diebold Election Systems made last-minute, untested changes to a device used with its AccuVote-TS and TSx voting machines. As a result of glitches, hundreds of polling places failed to open on time, disenfranchising voters who couldn’t cast ballots.” Secretary of State Shelley is referring Diebold to the Attorney General for the unauthorized upgrades.
The California decision was made after years of work by activists including Kim Alexander at Calvoter, and David Dill, professor of computer science at Stanford University, founder of Verified Voting educating state officials about the risks of non-verified voting.
We have a ways to go here in Texas. County and state officials are learning about voting system security. At a public hearing of the House Elections Committee, a county clerk testifed about the popularity of the Diebold system among voters. None of the state or county election administrators seemed concerned about the studies in the last year showing serious security flaws in these systems.
When presented with reports about evoting problems in other states, chairwoman Mary Denny declared that these stories were not relevant, because they did not happen in Texas. Imagine if Firestone tires self-destructed in California, and Texas officials said that the evidence wouldn’t be relevant unless the tires exploded here in Texas.
This means we have more education to do here. But the trend nationwide is in the right direction.

Identification — on or off?

Jon Udell contends that we’re hard-wired to recognize other humans:

Humans are hardwired to recognize faces, voices, gaits. We do it always and automatically. Perhaps so automatically that we don’t notice, for the most part, that we are doing it. When my teenage daughter comes downstairs there’s rarely any ambiguity about who she is.

Jon is disagreeing with David Weinberger, who says that identification defaults to off:

In the real world, we don’t identify everyone. We only identify those about whom we have doubts that we have to resolve for some purpose. Identifying is not the default in the real world. Nor, IMO, should it be online.

They’re both right. We instinctively recognize other people — nod to neighbors, chitchat with baristas, and identify those we know well by the smallest of gestures.
But we don’t ask for deep ID until its necessary. The social protocol for data is progressive disclosure. When do you learn someone’s street address? Their home town? Their salary? The default is to start shallow, and to get deeper with trust.
Computers are literal-minded critters. Knowing hair color and HIV status is all the same to them.
Perhaps identification defaults to on, but disclosure defaults to off.

Topic is a pheremone

Sebastien Paquet and Phil Pearson have written a paper about Internet Topic Exchange, a service they built that enables weblog posts to be shared among open groups in the form that we call topic channels. After nearly a year of operation, more than 200 topic channels have been created; several of them have been very active and have brought together many participants.
Now, with the discussion a while back about emergence, one might think that this was about the coalescing of knowledge; the growth of collections of text like termite mounds.
For the metaphor to hold, it implies the following about termite biology — that the instinct that draws termites to move grains of sand into a pile are different from the patterns that cause them to build structures with passageways and rooms dedicated to various purposes. (I don’t know this to be true, seems logical, references to relevent genetic ethology welcome).
Topics serve as pheremones — people are drawn together by the “smell” of a common interest. It takes an entirely different set of skills to shape those interests into shared meanings, to weave the individuals into a group, to build those shared interest into shared artifacts and actions.

If I had a digital camera

I’d take a picture of the roses that are blooming on the rosebush, the small forest of thriving grass that was mowed in the backyard, which was a muddy desert last winter, (fortunately, the grass in the front yard goes dormant over the winter), and the little white flowers whose names I forget, on the backyard bushes.
I wish I had a gardening mentor who would stop by once a season, give a few tips that I could do and digest, and come back again. Would happily trade for semi-pro editing, career counselling, or dinner.

women, competition, followup

A few good follow-up conversations about the “women and competition” story, two posts down.
Sunir wondered about whether the study reveals cultural bias in favor of single-winner competition.
Just one recent example: Joi Ito’s post about Japanese reaction to the hostages in Iraq and ideas about individualism vs group identity in Japanese culture.
Peter comments that the preference for competition vs. co-operation doesn’t line up neatly on a gender axis.
(Which is my beef with difference feminism; gender is an illustrative lens to examine human differences, but one of many; gender differences are real, but reflect averages across the population, and don’t determine individual behavior).
The more that I think about it, the real, detectable underlying bias here is that of the University of Chicago, the affiliation of the study’s lead author. The Chicago school of economics applies the mathematical and experimental techniques of economics to “prove” how the rational, individualistic incentives of “homo economicus” apply to everyday social life. Debatable philosophical assumptions about human nature are baked into the premises of the studies, and the outcomes confirm the premises.

What’s fun about #joiito

I keep the #joiito IRC channel running in the background some chunk of the time, and occasionally join in the conversation
Here’s what I like about it:
* makes me laugh. It’s an opportunity for pointless silliness. Occasionally, people show up and ask “what is the point of this channel.” Occasionally, people talk about “serious topics” and spark real-life projects. Put pointlessness is mostly the point. This is very good, I have way more than enough purpose.
* background noise. Similar reason that I like working and hanging out at the Green Muse. Something about the varied hum, the sense of being in a social space, even as I’m concentrating on something else.
* friendship bookmarks. Don’t quite count people I meet there as real friends and colleagues, yet. There’s a bit of “unbearable lightness” about IRC on its own — people can easily come, and easily go. People get mad at something or other, and leave in a huff — no need to come back, no need to apologize. The measure of realness isn’t how often you meet in 3d, it’s obligation and reciprocity over time. Reality is taking on some project, or putting someone up in a strange town, or helping in a pinch. The friendship bookmarks are real, though. Enough context over time that reality can happen.

Women and power

Years ago, I helped edit the manuscript of a friendly acquaintance, who was writing a book about Rockwell Kent, a once-famous, now-obscure American illustrator, best-remembered now for his leftist politics. (/alevin edits friends’ manuscripts for love and free food.)
The illustrator’s producer and collaborator for many years was a woman who was a leading impresaria of American art in the 20s and 30s. She organized gallery showings, nurtured artists, cultivated patrons and critics, and grew a scene around contemporary American art. She’s remembered less well than he is, and I’m not remembering her name. (if you remember the details, let me know).
The manuscript paraphrased the impresaria’s journals at the time. “Despite the lack of formal education, and mediocre skills, the impresaria was fortunate enough to meet a few talented painters, and, despite her mistake-ridden management, was lucky enough to bring a showing or two together.”
“You fell for it”, I told the manuscript author. The impresaria used a self-deprecating style to describe her position as the result of happenstance and the skills of others. Given the facts of her biography, she was clearly a powerhouse. She organized a school, a community, a market, as a result of initiative and hard work, diplomacy and management skills.
For various cultural reasons, some women find it hard to take credit for their own achievements. It doesn’t mean that their self-deprecation should be taken at face value.