Admiral Ackbar on Persian Governors
A: It’s satrap!
Admiral Ackbar on Persian Governors
A: It’s satrap!
Aaron Swartz — A Year Later
My friend Aaron Swartz died a little more than a year ago. This time last year, I was spending much of my time speaking with journalists and reading what they were writing about Aaron.
Since the anniversary of his death, I have tried to take time to remember Aaron. I’ve returned to the things I wrote and the things I said including this short article — published last year in Red Pepper — that SJ Klein and I wrote together but that I forgot to mention on my blog.
As I said last year at a memorial for Aaron, I think about Aaron frequently and often think about my own decisions in terms of what Aaron would have done. I continued to be optimistic about the potential for Aaron-inspired action.
My Geekhouse Bike Frame
For years, Mika and I have been planning to do the Tour d’Afrique route (Capetown to Cairo), unsupported, on bike. People that do this type of ride sometimes use an expedition touring frame. I worked with Marty Walsh at Geekhouse to design a bike based on this idea. The concept was a rugged steel touring frame, built for my body and comfortable over long distances, with two quirks:
As our pan-Africa trip kept getting pushed back, so did the need for the bike. Last week, I finally picked up the finished bike from Marty’s shop in Boston. It is gorgeous. I absolutely love it.
I’m looking forward to building up the bicycle over the next couple months and I’ll post more pictures when it’s finished. I am blown away by Marty’s craftsmanship and attention to detail. I am psyched that his donation made this bike possible and that I was able to get the frame while helping cycling in Massachusetts!
“When Free Software Isn’t Better” Talk
In late October, the FSF posted this video of a talk called When Free Software Isn’t (Practically) Better that I gave at LibrePlanet earlier in the year. I noticed it was public when, out of the blue, I started getting both a bunch of positive feedback about the talk as well as many people pointing out that my slides (which were rather important) were not visible in the video!
The talk is very roughly based on this 2010 article and I argue that, despite our advocacy, free software isn’t always (or even often) better in practical terms. The talk moves beyond the article and tries to be more constructive by pointing to a series of inherent practical benefits grounded in software freedom principles and practice.
Most important to me though, the talk reflects my first serious attempt to bring together some of the findings from my day job as a social scientist with my work as a free software advocate. I present some nuggets from my own research and talk about about what they mean for free software and its advocates.
Settling in Seattle
I defended my dissertation three months ago. Since then, it feels like everything has changed.
I’ve moved from Somerville to Seattle, moved from MIT to the University of Washington, and gone from being a graduate student to a professor. Mika and I have moved out of a multi-apartment cooperative into into a small apartment we’re calling Extraordinary Least Squares. We’ve gone from a broad and deep social network to (almost) starting from scratch in a new city.
As things settle and I develop a little extra bandwidth, I am trying to take time to get connected to my community. If you’re in Seattle and know me, drop me a line! If you’re in Seattle but don’t know me yet, do the same so we can fix that!
Doctor of Philosophy
On Wednesday, I successfully defended my PhD dissertation in front of a ridiculously packed house at the MIT Media Lab. I am humbled by the support shown by the MIT Sloan, Media Lab, and Harvard communities. Earlier today, I finished up paperwork and submitted my archival copies. I’m done.
Although I’ve often heard PhDs described as emotional roller coasters, I feel enormously blessed in that I honestly can’t relate. My eight years at MIT and Harvard have been almost universally positive and I have learned and grown indescribably. As excited as I am about my next chapter at the University of Washington, I’m going to miss my life here. Deeply.
My dissertation was three essays on volunteer mobilization in peer production. Once I have a chance to catch up and recover, I’ll be posting the previously unpublished pieces. The Remixing Dilemma was included in the dissertation and is already online. The Media Lab AV team shot professional video of the talk. When I get a copy of the video, I’ll post that too.
But because I think it’s important, I’ve formatted and published the acknowledgments section of the dissertation today. Although there are too many folks to thank, I’ve highlighted the contributions of my co-authors, and friends, Aaron Shaw and Andrés Monroy Hernández and my almost unbelievably incredible group of advisors: Eric von Hippel, Yochai Benkler, Mitch Resnick, and Tom Malone.
The Wikipedia Gender Gap Revisited
In a new paper, recently published in the open access journal PLOSONE, Aaron Shaw and I build on new research in survey methodology to describe a method for estimating bias in opt-in surveys of contributors to online communities. We use the technique to reevaluate the most widely cited estimate of the gender gap in Wikipedia.
A series of studies have shown that Wikipedia’s editor-base is overwhelmingly male. This extreme gender imbalance threatens to undermine Wikipedia’s capacity to produce high quality information from a full range of perspectives. For example, many articles on topics of particular interest to women tend to be under-produced or of poor quality.
Given the open and often anonymous nature of online communities, measuring contributor demographics is a challenge. Most demographic data on Wikipedia editors come from “opt-in” surveys where people respond to open, public invitations. Unfortunately, very few people answer these invitations. Results from opt-in surveys are unreliable because respondents are rarely representative of the community as a whole. The most widely-cited estimate from a large 2008 survey by the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) and UN University in Maastrict (UNU-MERIT) suggested that only 13% of contributors were female. However, the very same survey suggested that less than 40% of Wikipedia’s readers were female. We know, from several reliable sources, that Wikipedia’s readership is evenly split by gender — a sign of bias in the WMF/UNU-MERIT survey.
In our paper, we combine data from a nationally representative survey of the US by the Pew Internet and American Life Project with the opt-in data from the 2008 WMF/UNU-MERIT survey to come up with revised estimates of the Wikipedia gender gap. The details of the estimation technique are in the paper, but the core steps are:
Using this method, we estimate that the proportion of female US adult editors was 27.5% higher than the original study reported (22.7%, versus 17.8%), and that the total proportion of female editors was 26.8% higher (16.1%, versus 12.7%). These findings are consistent with other work showing that opt-in surveys tend to undercount women.
Overall, these results reinforce the basic substantive finding that women are vastly under-represented among Wikipedia editors.
Beyond Wikipedia, our paper describes a method online communities can adopt to estimate contributor demographics using opt-in surveys, but that is more credible than relying entirely on opt-in data. Advertising-intelligence firms like ComScore and Quantcast provide demographic data on the readership of an enormous proportion of websites. With these sources, almost any community can use our method (and source code) to replicate a similar analysis by: (1) surveying a community’s readers (or a random subset) with the same instrument used to survey contributors; (2) combining results for readers with reliable demographic data about the readership population from a credible source; (3) reweighting survey results using the method we describe.
Although our new estimates will not help us us close the gender gap in Wikipedia or address its troubling implications, they give us a better picture of the problem. Additionally, our method offers an improved tool to build a clearer demographic picture of other online communities in general.
Is Franz Sacher, the Inventor of the famous sachertorte, still alive and and working at the at the Electronic Frontier Foundation? Might this help explain why EFF Technology Project Director Peter Eckersley is so concerned about protecting privacy and pseudonymity?
Iceowl’s Awesome New Icon
If you’re a Debian user, you are probably already familiar with some of the awesome icons for IceWeasel (rebranded Mozilla Firefox), IceDove (rebranded Mozilla Thunderbird) and IceApe (rebranded Mozilla SeaMonkey).
Until very recently however, IceOwl (rebranded Mozilla Sundbird) had no such awesome icon. Quite a while ago, I filed bug #658664 in Debian complaining that “iceowl does not include awesome icy owl icons.” I wrote:
I was extremely disappointed when I installed Iceowl and discovered that it does not ship with an awesome logo or icons showing a picture of an “IceOwl.” Instead, it seems to be represented by picture of a (boring) paper calendar which is very generic and not awesome at all.
IceWeasel, IceDove, and IceApe each include extremely awesome logos/icons that have really cool looking white illustrations of “icy” weasels, doves, and apes. IceOwl needs a similarly awesome logo to use as its icon.
This bug seems particularly egregious because owls actually live in icy climates and come in white versions! For example:
While illustrators need to imagine what an “ice ape” or “ice weasel” might look like, there is no such need for imagination in the case of an ice owl!
As far as I’m concerned, this bug should be release critical. Hopefully, someone will upload a patch quickly!
Finally, after many months of all of us suffering in silence, Nick Morrott came along and fixed the bug with the creation of this new, incredibly awesome, icy owl logo!
Job Market Materials
Last year, I applied for academic, tenure track, jobs at several communication departments, information schools, and in HCI-focused computer science programs with a tradition of hiring social scientists.
Being “on the market” — as it is called — is both scary and time consuming. Like me, many candidates have never been on the market before. Candidates are asked to produce documents in genres — e.g., cover letters, research statements, teaching statements, diversity statements — that most candidates have never written, read, or even heard of.
Candidates often rely on their supervisors for advice. I did so and my advisors were extremely helpful. The reality, however, is that although candidates’ advisors may sit on hiring committees, most have not been on candidates’ side of job market themselves for years or even decades.
The Internet is full of websites, like the academic jobs wiki, Academia StackExchange, and the Chronicle of Higher Education forums for people on the market. Confused and insecure candidates ask questions of the form, “Does blank matter?” and the answer is usually, “Doing/having blank may help/hurt, but it is only one factor of many.” The result is that candidates worry about everything. Then they worry about what they should be worrying about, but are not.
The most helpful thing, for me, was to read and synthesize the material submitted by recent successful job market candidates. For example, Michael Bernstein — a friend from MIT, now at Stanford — published his research and teaching statements on his website and I found both useful as I prepared mine. That said, I was surprised by how little material like this I could find on the web. For example, I could not find any examples of recent job market cover letters from successful candidates in fields close to mine.
So to help fill this gap, I am publishing all of my job market material. I’ve posted both the PDFs of the material I submitted as well as the LaTeX templates I used to generate the documents in my packet. My packet included:
I hope people going “on the market” will find these materials useful. Obviously, you should not copy or reuse the text of any of my material. It is your application, after all. That said, please do help yourself to the formatting and structure.
Finally, I would encourage anyone who builds on my material to republish their own material to help other candidates. If you do, I’d appreciate a link back or comment on this blog post so that my readers can find your improvements.
New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.
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If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!