zeborah: On the shoulders of giants: zebra on a giraffe (science)
or,
Forget your goddamn hoverboard — where's my utopia?

Every now and then someone writes some screed that seems to presuppose that science-fiction began with Star Trek or Campbell and that the movement to include social themes is destroying the genre. This is a patent nonsense: firstly because the genre is flourishing; secondly because social themes were always part of those stories; and thirdly because Campbell and Star Trek were mere johnny-come-latelies to a centuries' long list of illustrious foremothers.

But the fake geek guys don't actually care about the history of the genre. All they care about is what they read and saw when they were growing up. That's why the catch cry among the current generation is "Where's my hoverboard?" They saw Back to the Future Part II, they imprinted on the hoverboard like a newborn chick on its mother and, ever since, that piece of cheap technology is all they want of the future.

What this doesn't take into account is that hoverboards don't come from nowhere. Someone, or more likely some team of people, has to create them. Back to the Future Part II has no interest in exploring this. It's not the kind of story that delves into social themes; it's the kind of story that knocks a woman unconscious and leaves her in the alley to keep her from interfering in the men's adventure. So it simply has our white male hero steal the hoverboard from a native of the time period and proceed to trash it.

Star Trek, though it was (self-)consciously interested in social themes and depicted the future as a utopia, wasn't much more forthcoming on how its technology or that utopia developed. Which came first, the replicator or the society with no need for money? Zefram's warp drive seems necessary to meet the Vulcans and enable humanity's next step of societal 'evolution'. It's never spelled out and there are a few counterpoints — the Prime Directive at least seems to recognise that technology isn't a panacea — but by and large the general impression, imbibed by the generation raised on the show(s), is that if we get the technology right, society will fall into place.

This isn't entirely unfounded: technology can greatly improve quality of life. Birth control, immunisations, water filtration, solar power and cellphones have, together and severally, incredible transformative power. But it's not the whole story. We still need to figure out how to get our hoverboard.

And this is something that the ovular works of science-fiction took an intense interest in. Whether their utopias were reached by the imagination, a polar vortex, a dream, or time travel, they didn't want to just revel in cool technology (although they did that) or the fantastic adventures it enabled (though they did that too). They wanted to know How do we in the present get some of this? And the answers were based in social justice.

Suffrage, says The Blazing World. Education, an end to early marriage, and keeping men secluded in mardana, says Sultana's Dream. Physical and mental training for women, suffrage, prostitution reform, and farming, says Men's Rights. Free and universal education, class equality, parthenogenesis, and eugenics, says Mizora: a Prophecy.

Yes, eugenics; no, these authors were not perfect. (None of us are: we can but keep striving for it.) But they were right about extending education. The more people we educate, the more people can contribute to advancement of society, knowledge, and technology. Like science-fiction, computing was literally founded by women, and we wouldn't be anywhere near where we are today without the integral contributions of LGBT people, of people of colour, of people with disabilities.

But our society doesn't make it easy for any of these people. In the news recently have been the stories of women who left astrophysics because a prominent lecturer at their university harassed them and countless others for years with impunity. The same happens in science-fiction fandom. It happens in computing. And it happens in engineering. People who don't meet the cis-het white male standard get chased, sidelined, and ignored out of the field.

So where's our hoverboard? Let me tell you: it was supposed to be created by a team of engineers who met at a conference and discovered a shared passion and a mutually complementary set of skills. But in our timeline, none of these people are in the field any more. Maybe they got shot at the École Polytechnique. Maybe they got arrested for building a clock. Long story short, if we want a hoverboard we're going to have to take our DeLorean 30 years back in time and fix whatever went wrong.

No DeLorean time machine? Well, in that case maybe we'll just have to settle for fixing the things that are still going wrong in the present.

So first we need to build our social justice utopia and then we'll get our hoverboard. And a lot more besides.
zeborah: Fezzes are cool.  Amy and River blow it up. (cool)
So after heleninwales suggested I try speech recognition, and I complained about all the reasons why it was impractical, I went out and did a pile more research to see if it was least possible. And it is! It took a while to get the setup I want, though.

I started off by utilising my personal contacts (whose names I won't name in order to protect the nearly-innocent) to procure a copy of MacSpeech so I could test it and see of it would be useful for my workflow without forking out hundreds of dollars. I then spent a lot of time fiddling with headsets, creating profiles, training the software, restarting the darned software every time it crashed, swatting the cat away from my microphone mouthpiece, testing a Bluetooth microphone, training the software again, trying to figure out why it made my computer so slow, and so forth.

I did eventually decides that, with a lot of kicking and screaming, it could prove useful. So I purchased my own copy and downloaded it. Approximately 20 seconds after installing it, it offered me an update. Fortunately that was much quicker to install.
I wrestled a lot with microphones after that, too. The Bluetooth microphone was too far from my mouth, and getting a longer one would put it at risk of the cat again. The training wasn't going well. I was getting frustrated. Finally I decided to go back to a USB headset. I went to the Warehouse and picked up the only USB headset they had. I spent that evening training the software yet again, and the next evening reading the entire manual. It's going to be pretty good once I get the hang of it. Shall write more when I'm not running late for work....
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
(No, this is not about the increasing number of silver hairs on my head or, as I like to think of them, my passport to not getting carded when buying the occasional bottle of wine.)

A few years ago, we used to say as a joke, "Ah, so that's what the kids are calling it these days."

Now I listen to Lady Gaga's songs and I say, "Huh, the kids are really calling it these days."

--Which is why I'm really liking them. I just don't know that many other songs about masturbation, y'know? Somewhere I came across someone online saying she should stop writing such sexual songs and I'm all, "Dude, that's what's so awesome about them!" That and that the music makes me want to move in happy ways, which is good seeing as this is being a crappy week in which the university is proposing to disestablish nearly a third of my colleagues across the whole uni library, mostly managers and other highly skilled staff, and replace half of them with mostly cheaper and less qualified models.

<random wibbling!> After due consideration of risks and benefits, I began tweeting about this proposal under my name. People have been very supportive. Today I tweeted a link to the union's online copy of the proposal itself and only later discovered that it was maybe not meant to be quite so public as I thus made it. I don't think the union will fret and if anyone else complains I can always say that HR told us that after 2:30 Tuesday we could tell anyone we liked about it. I doubt they will though. And I don't seriously think that being bolshy about such an appalling proposal will seriously damage my future career prospects, so long as I keep on sticking strictly to the facts. So it's just really generalised wibbling, and Lady Gaga makes me feel better.

I may do a lot of shelf-tidying over the next few weeks with her as background. Did I mention I have a new iPod nano? I have a new iPod nano, and it's purple, and I've solemnly vowed not to accidentally throw this one out with the rotten apples.

<handy tip!> After a couple of days of normal operation, my volume got stuck too loud and hurting my ears and not being at all adjustable, and googling the problem just brought up a lot of people offering oh-so-clever advice like "turn the wheel to turn the volume down" and "use volume lock to set the maximum volume you want". After much desperate fiddling I came up with two solutions (in reverse order of finding them but in order of helpfulness):
  • Reset settings. This made the volume adjustable again, so I can now turn it down to a pleasant volume. The downside was that I had to tweak all my non-volume related settings to be just how I want them.
  • So before that I tried setting the EQ (equaliser) to "Loudness". This reduced the volume to something tolerable, but it was still stuck at non-adjustable.
At some point I may fiddle around to see what I did that made it non-adjustable to start with but in the meantime I'm glad it's working again.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
I'm writing this as I explore Buzz's privacy issues, so what I write at the start is amended by what I discover further on. I note ETAs briefly after I've finished exploring. This got bloody long; if you don't have all that time, scroll down to my conclusion or to the TL;DR.

If you have a GMail account, Buzz is enabled. [ETA: This turns out to be not as scary as it sounds. But still.]

The splash screen where it asks if you want to check it out or not? That doesn't mean "Do you want the function or not?" It means "You have the function. Do you want to know more about it or not?" Even if you click no, you'll see the Buzz logo in your side nav-bar under the Inbox.

Click on the logo and it'll show you you're automatically following some people and some people are automatically following you. It also tells you that "Your Google Reader shared items, Picasa Web public albums, and Google Chat status messages will automatically appear as posts in Buzz." [ETA: It turns out that this sentence is a lie. It means "If you connect them, they'll automatically appear".]

[Sidebar: This is an example of why automatically sharing things is a bad thing to do [ETA: or even to threaten to do]. It's also a great example of privilege at work, in that Google engineers apparently have the privilege of not fearing for their lives.

So. There's a line that says "Zeborah (Edit) - 0 connected sites - 5 followers". I click on that "5 followers". The top follower is someone I don't even know. I don't know his name, and though he has a public profile it only consists of his name and avatar - I can't tell anything about him from it. I click on "Block". [ETA: I just thought to check my gmail contacts. It turns out to be someone I emailed once to give something away on Freecycle. Once. I don't know why he's following me; maybe he really likes Buzz; maybe he's got very few contacts so Gmail randomly decided he should follow me.]

The next 4 followers are all people I know. They don't have public profiles, so no-one else will see that they're following me. (This is what Google was talking about as one of its privacy improvements.) But they're still following me even though I've never said that I even want to be followable. Of course they probably don't realise that they're following me, just like I didn't realise I was following 12 people.

I go back to the main Buzz screen and click on the list of the 12 people I'm following. One of those people is actually a pseudonym for myself. It's like "Superman" to Clark Kent: it's the name I use to fight crime. (Specifically, 419 scammers.) When I'm fighting crime, I'd really rather that the criminals I'm emailing not know who I am in real life. I'm really open in sharing about myself on the internet; I'd forgotten that even I have reasons to be careful of privacy. Mental note: go onto the 419 crime-fighters forum and write a tutorial about Buzz.

So at this point I open my librarian-persona gmail in another browser. Librarian follows Zeborah and unfollows everyone else. Zeborah shares an item in Google Reader and... Huh, actually it doesn't turn up in Librarian's Buzz. Why is that?

Zeborah doesn't have a Google profile; so let's create one. I go back to the "Zeborah (Edit) - 1 connected site - 5 followers" line and click on "Edit". I leave everything blank and untick things so that I'm not automatically sharing anything, then at the bottom click "Create Profile".

Now Librarian is able to see Zeborah's profile, but still can't see who Zeborah is following or what Zeborah has shared in Google Reader.

Zeborah follows Librarian. Zeborah can now see all Librarian's items. Librarian still can't see who Zeborah is following or what Zeborah has shared.

Going back to the "Zeborah (Edit) - 0 connected sites - 5 followers" line I click on "0 connected sites". I leave the first page alone and click "Next"; now it asks me to create a profile. This is apparently different from a regular Google profile which I've already created? [ETA: Not different exactly, but it adds fields into the regular Google profile which weren't there before.] Anyway, it lets me opt out of showing off who I'm following and who's following me, so I untick that box and create the profile. (Even if I tick that box, Librarian can only see that I'm following "1 other person without a public profile", so it does protect that person's privacy as long as they don't create a profile.)

Librarian still can't see Zeborah's previously created shared post.

Zeborah creates a second shared post - now Librarian can see that.

If Zeborah unfollows Librarian, Librarian can still see Zeborah's shared posts (including new ones).

If Zeborah blocks Librarian (when Librarian was previously able to see Zeborah's shared posts) Librarian can still see Zeborah's old shared posts, but not new ones.




Tentative conclusion (because this much exploring fades my brain)
I think that people can't see who you're following or who's following you unless you've opted to create a Buzz profile and left the option ticked, and even then they can't see the names of anyone who hasn't created their own profile. I think that people can't in fact see your shared items unless you opt in by adding connected sites, and I think that even then they can't see items you've shared in the past, only what you share from now on. However if someone can see your stuff and then you block them, they can still see your old stuff.

I think that "Librarian is following you" actually means "Librarian would like to follow you if/when you create a Buzz profile and add connected sites".

I think that all of this could have been a lot clearer. This just took me an hour and a half to figure out, which is unacceptable.

And I think that when you block someone, it should remove all your past items from their view.

TL;DR
If you've done nothing with Buzz, you're probably fine.
If you have done stuff with Buzz and are concerned about privacy, you probably want to:
  • Check your connected sites - you want that to be 0. If it's not 0, click on it then for each site listed, click "Edit" -> "Remove site". Save your changes.
  • Check your profile - click "Edit" next to your name. Delete all the information you want deleted and untick all the boxes. Save your changes.
You'll still see that people are 'following' you, but as far as I can tell they won't be able to actually see anything.

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zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
zeborah

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