Tag Archives: Sociology


Playing in communities of practice

I love playing in communities of practice. Not many things light up my brain more than the sort of flow I can achieve when I’m embedded deeply enough in a community of practice that I can smoothly follow a technical discussion, or better yet, anticipate some-but-not-all of the structure and details of a discussion, or better yet, enter into a creative dialog with another practitioner, or better yet, achieve actual artifacts of note within the field. A minute of that stuff is worth days of small talk and regurgitated opining, to me.

(By the way, the book Communities of Practice is pretty cool, from what I was able to read before someone else recalled it.)

At a recent Ames MakerSpace meeting, we were talking about the mission of the group. There already exists a mission statement, but if I were to state my personal mission as a member of the group, it would be something along the lines of: to facilitate growth within, and connections between, local communities of practice. I suppose that sounds pretty generic, but there’s a reason: any community of practice is fun to interact with if my interlocutors bring passion*.

It also might sound strange that I didn’t mention the tools and the space. That’s because the people and connections have a lot more value to me than those. But, I should add that tools and shared space are an important part of the process by which a community of practice forms and deepens its intimacy. These, and the artifacts and works-in-progress created by the community, embody a level of sharing/communication/expression that can’t be achieved by talk alone. It’s amazing what even just a sprinkling of that stuff adds to the interactions.

Seeing and helping others succeed is a great joy for me (I assume that’s true of most other people, too). Aligning myself with appropriate communities of practice helps to ensure a somewhat steady stream of such experience.


* In my time with the MakerSpace, I’ve heard people express their passion for, among other things: web development, sewing, miniature cattle, wire sculptures, storm doors, coffee brewing, rapid prototyping, bicycles, recycling electronics, gardens, metal fabrication, alternative currencies, fish, GIS, CNC, radio protocols, ecology, intranet collaboration, solar cells, robots, CAD, image analysis, power tools, winter dress systems, … I’m just scratching the surface, but that’s already a pretty great list. As measured in units of passion-diversity-intensity-per-hour, it’s been a good investment for me.


“Wikipedian Protester”

I’d love to see this toon spark a political movement:

Wikipedian Protester


“We Feel Fine”

This is pretty amazing, on a few different levels: We Feel Fine.


Sociology of software

I’m pretty fascinated by the concept that there’s a sociology of software, that the patterns of relationships in the little world of software components installed on a computer mirror, to some degree, the patterns of relationships in the world of users and developers. I suspect that some academics out there study such things, so I’ll have to see what they’ve learned some day.

I did find one interesting paper in an earlier search: Sociology in machines (PDF). It’s not hitting quite the nail with the exact hammer I’m thinking of, but it might be a good starting point.

Anyway, I was reminded of this when I was researching my problem in MediaPortal as mentioned in Geek TV: open source rocks. In that situation, we have at least three development groups (Nero, Team MediaPortal, and Microsoft) plus one user participating in transactions, specifically, User wants to use software from all three groups on the same computer. The sets of components are developed pretty independently of one another, but there are significant dependencies on Microsoft for both Nero and MediaPortal. Each set of components can be installed and uninstalled in somewhat independent ways. Nero and MediaPortal make calls to Microsoft components, but Microsoft also makes calls back to both. It’s in that particular web of interactions that problems arise.

I could go on, but won’t.


Burning down libraries remotely

Seeing this article over at Wired (Public Libraries, Private DRM) reminded me of a cool thing you can do to help accelerate the downfall of civilization:

  • Invent a DRM scheme with revocation (naturally, most of the ones coming out, such as AACS, have this).
  • Get useful content recorded with your scheme, then into libraries, through the force of the marketplace.
  • Let people go on thinking that libraries are a way to preserve cultural content beyond its life in the market and outside of the hands of future censors.
  • Revoke, revoke, revoke! The content magically disappears off library shelves (given that devices can no longer read the content, ever again).
  • Instead of revoking explicitly, you can also go out of business, release a new and incompatible version of your DRM scheme, have a bug in your DRM, let your servers go down, etc. The possibilities are wide open.

Marketplace of ideas

The idea of the Internet (or any other cloud of technology you might choose) as a “marketplace of ideas” is an evocative one. But it occurs to me that the idea brings along one of the flaws of marketplace thinking that could be even more damaging in the realm of ideas than in the realm of products-and-services.

Just a moment ago, on a blog that I follow, I read an article that made me a bit sick to my stomach. It wasn’t that the author was totally off his rocker, just that I couldn’t agree with his premises and found his conclusions to be way off the mark. This being the worst of three or four times that I’ve had that reaction to articles on the blog, I removed it from my feed list.

That’s the flaw I’m talking about. “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it” is the rule by which I make many decisions in the “real world”, and also in the “world of ideas”. That’s also an argument I hear advanced against someone who complains about a product, service, company or idea. But that’s a pretty weak sort of choice, “yes or no!”. What about some “yes, and…”, “no, but…”, “here’s another choice…”, etc.


The success trap

I’ve seen lots of articles or books or whatever with that title, or similar. However, I haven’t really seen many that talk about this particular trap. The trap I’m talking about is believing that your definition of success fits everyone else.

It isn’t a good idea, says I, to think that other people would have to have the exact same circumstances in their lives as you have in yours for them to feel happy.



Is it just me, or does it seem like the whole multilayered brouhaha (yes, I used the word ‘brouhaha’. Wanna fight aboudit?) about DRM, DCMA, RIAA, MPAA, WTFA is really a sideline from a more important question? The question is, why are we accepting this crazy model of top-down entertainment? Why aren’t we making music for our friends (and only for our friends), or stopping by a neighbor’s house when they’re doing a little play? Why are we even looking for entertainment instead of expression and communication? Why are we afraid to believe our own stories could be as enthralling as those enacted by someone who wouldn’t deign to appear for less than $10 million?


Social isolation

I notice that some people present a statement similar to “technology x is socially isolating” as if that was a self-contained argument that technology x is ‘bad’. Putting aside for a moment the fact that any technology which can be used in a socially isolating manner can also be used in a socially inclusive manner, I think it’s quite a good thing that there are technologies available to do things in a manner which reduces social interaction.

Looking at my personal psychology, and I don’t think I’m at all alone in this, I have limits in the amount and types of social interaction I have in a day. If those limits are exceeded, further interaction of the wrong types can be disproportionately annoying. Even if I acknowledge at that moment that I’m ‘overreacting’, I remain annoyed. If I was pushed way beyond those limits, I suppose I could end up alienating people or, ya know, mauling them.

I think many people labelled ‘jerks’ and many of the ‘random’ violent acts we hear about could be explained mainly by social overload. This world has a whole lotta people, packed in insane densities in some places, so the availablility of ways to modulate and balance one’s social interactions becomes an essential skill to reduce one’s stress and hostility.


An ounce of social engineering…

Things make me laugh. Like, for instance: Grins banned from passport pics, wherein it is declared that there are rules for passport pictures that say you can’t smile because it confuses face recognition systems.

What’s really going on is that the face recognition systems don’t work at all, and they just want to get people who don’t want to be found to run around airports smiling all the time.

It’s also interesting that in my three-and-a-half seconds of research for this post, the second hit in a web search reveals this paper: Smiling Faces are Better for Face Recognition. Har, and I mean har. Of course, we can’t trust that paper, right, cuz the first author is named Yaser.

And speaking of things that are amusing in various ways and simultaneously related to face recognition, I love the term ‘eigenfaces’ (Eigenfaces for recognition).