[Plura-list] Principles for platform regulation; Hagoromo, mathematicians' cult chalk; Gender and the Hugo Awards

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu Aug 27 11:45:29 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Principles for platform regulation: User control, algorithmic
transparency, accountable governance and anonymity.

* Hagoromo, mathematicians' cult chalk: The Blackwing pencil of chalkboards.

* Gender and the Hugo Awards: It's still wildly skewed.

* Outdoor education beat TB in 1907: A brisk precedent for in-person

* This day in history: 2015, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


👩🏿‍🔬 Principles for platform regulation

As the EU works through the contours of the new Digital Services Act, my
EFF colleagues Svea Windwehr, Christoph Schmon and Jillian York have
published a set of four principles for sound digital platform regulation.


I. Give Users Control Over Content: Let users decide how their feeds are
ordered, mandate interop so that it's easy for users to install plugins
that do this work for them, ban ToS that forbids reverse-engineering and

Abandon the idea that platforms have the final word about what is and
isn't objectionable and/or harassing. Let users choose what they want to
block and what they want to see, rather than petitioning platforms and
hoping they get a hearing.

II: Algorithmic Transparency: Platforms should divulge the criteria they
use for recommendation and flagging, and explain in clear terms
when/why/how algorithmic systems are used. Allow third-party and
regulatory audits of algorithms.

III. Accountable Governance: Make platforms notify, explain and consult
on content policy changes, require meaningful consent to new policies
and allow for opt-outs, and make policies machine readable and
accessible to humans without specialized knowledge.

IV. Right to Anonymity Online: Ditch "real names" proposals aimed at
fighting disinformation and respect the will of individuals not to
disclose their identities online.

That was my summary, but I urge you to read the original: as befits
their prodigious communications skills, it's a sprightly and eminently
readable doc!


👩🏿‍🔬 Hagoromo, mathematicians' cult chalk

Mathematicians have an almost mystical reverence for Hagoromo chalk, a
Japanese stationery product that was manufactured from 1932 to 2015,
when the company shuttered, prompting mass panic-purchasing of the
remaining stock.

In a multimedia piece for CNN, Trisha Gopal, Jacqueline Omanoff and Evan
Chung give us a taste of how mathematicians describe the chalk:

"It'd be like Picasso using Sharpies on a piece of waxed paper instead
of using an actual canvas and oil paints...It's like skiing fresh
powder." -David Bayer/Barnard College, on why he won't use other chalk

"The legend around this chalk is that it's impossible to write a false
theorem using the chalk, but I think I've disproved that..." -David
Eisenbud/UC Berkeley

"Hagoromo definitely has a cult following, but that cult might be nearly
all mathematicians at this point." -Wei Ho/UMich

"I assume the special ingredient in Hagoromo is angel tears" -Max
Lieblich/U Washington


Mathematicians who hoarded the final production run sell the chalk at
steep markups, up to $25/box.

But there's another supplier: Shin Hyeong-seok is a Korean teacher who
discovered Hagoromo on a trip to Japan and fell in love with it.

Shin cultivated a relationship with Takayasu Watanabe, president of
Hagoromo and grandson of its founder; when Watanabe was dying of cancer
in 2014, Shin talked him into transfering the manufacture to a new
company Shin founded in Korea.

Prior to his death, Watanabe blessed Shin's first batches of chalk,
giving them his stamp of approval. Today, that chalk is manufactured
under the name "Fulltouch" by Shin's company, Sejong Mall.



👩🏿‍🔬 Gender and the Hugo Awards

Swarthmore CS/Linguistics undergrad Jake Chanenson did some data-mining
for an intro stats course to investigate the relationship between gender
and science fiction's Hugo Awards.


He mined 11 years' worth of Hugo data for best novel/novella/novelette,
cross referenced it with authors' Wikipedia entries to ascribe their
pronouns, and analyzed the results.

He excluded multi-author works for convenience and caveats that this
skews the results a little, as did his decision to exclude the short
story category.

That said, the outcomes are pretty stark.

What's more, the gender bias gets worse the deeper you dig, because a
small number of prodigiously talented women dominate the she/her
category - meaning the median male author has a much higher chance at a
nomination than the median woman author.

That is, when you look at authors, rather than nominations, you find
that about a third of the she/her results come from a small cohort of
prodigiously talented women.

It's even worse for nonbinary people: "Representation for people who
don’t use she/her or he/him pronouns is abysmal at just 3 out of 118
nominated authors over the past 11 years."


👩🏿‍🔬 Outdoor education beat TB in 1907

In 1907, a pair of Rhode Island physicians created an experimental,
year-round, outdoor school in hopes of curbing a raging TB epidemic,
where students learned in insulated bags with heated soapstones placed
at their feet.


The experiment worked: there were zero TB transmissions among students.
Two years later, there were 65 open-air schools across the region.

As Ginia Bellafante writes in the NYT, there's a growing body of
evidence in support of outdoor education even when there isn't a
pandemic, and during THIS pandemic, there's good evidence that being
outdoors seriously reduces transmission risk.

Bellafante moots sending K-2 students - a third of NYC's student body,
and the kids who'll struggle most with maintaining distance and hygiene
- to outdoor schools in community parks, freeing up space in school

NYC has a surprising amount of parkland, and it's well-distributed, with
sufficient outdoor spaces even in low income neighborhoods.

And as she points out, the challenges of teaching in a park are not any
greater than the challenges of teaching over Zoom.


👩🏿‍🔬 This day in history

#5yrsago Elaborate spear-phishing attempt against global Iranian and
free speech activists, including an EFF staffer

#5yrsago Rowlf the dog gives a dramatic reading of "Grim Grinning
Ghosts." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPMTEJ_IAAU

#5yrsago After Katrina, FBI prioritized cellphone

#5yrsago Germany's spy agency gave the NSA the private data of German
citizens in exchange for Xkeyscore access

#1yrago Rage Inside the Machine: an insightful, brilliant critique of
AI's computer science, sociology, philosophy and economics


👩🏿‍🔬 Colophon

Today's top sources: Memex 1.1 (https://memex.naughtons.org/), Kottke

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 542 words (54201 total).

Currently reading: Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 14)

Upcoming appearances:

* The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Censorship Circumvention, Aug 28,

* Keynote for Law Via the Internet conference, Sept 22,

* Writing into an Uncertain Future, Afterwords Festival, Oct 1,

Latest book:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

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*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

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