Book of Mormon production review

Last night I saw the Chicago production of The Book of Mormon! As expected, it was really fun and really high energy. And, of course, hilarious. It was amazingly written and produced, but I (of course) have some critiques.

The staging was full of fun little subtleties and jokes, and the pit and pit mix were quite good. The set and lighting design were also quite good. I particularly liked the lighting in the second half of Sal Tlay Ka Siti. I don’t usually like fake stars, but it was very tasteful and actually rather beautiful.

However, the tightness among the singers (mostly the Elders) and between them and the pit left something to be desired. I feel like it got a little better in the second half, but they got off to a weak start. The Africans seemed tighter, at least. I could have used a little more vocal in the mix, or just a little more high end on the vocals to add some definition. That actually may have been over-corrected, because at first it felt like the front fills were a little harsh from where we were sitting (fourth row of the dress circle). Not that the mixer can hear that from where they sit. Of course, more enunciation would have done the trick, too.

And the best vocal work in the show (by far, I thought) was Nabulungi.

As a side comment/thought: does anyone know who owns the rights to the show? As far as I can tell, it’s independent, which means they had to pay cash for the rights to characters from Walt Disney, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Star Trek. That can’t be cheap.

White flight, or early adopters of a new old economy?

What follows is my response to Whitney Erin Boesel’s post, and her response to me. I encourage you to read her post and comment first.

Thanks for your reply. I’m glad to know there’s a bit of hyperbole going on in this post!

You’re absolutely right that developer culture/values isn’t raceless, but then again, neither is any occupation or community of practice.

While you may be right that the short-term effect may be a return to the early culture — and demographics — of Twitter, I think the other side is that we (I’m a backer of see ourselves on the forefront of an enlightened movement that (speaking for myself, anyway) we hope will spread beyond those “enlightened few”.

Now, before you accuse me of being elitist, let me point out that such “enlightenment” stems from awareness, which is influenced by circumstance, which naturally varies with SES, occupation, community of practice, etc. I’m not personally a Twitter developer, but I’m active enough in the community to be aware of the issues that have angered Dalton and others. Developers’ grievances with Twitter aren’t that they aren’t be catered to hand and foot, and they certainly aren’t that the culture created by Twitter users has shifted, but that Twitter is being hostile toward them as a result of trying to monetize a free-to-use system. Twitter app developers made Twitter what it is by creating the ecosystem that made it so useful in the early days. Now Twitter is turning toward advertisers, turning its back on developers. It’s the much-written-about shift from platform to media company.

And as a PhD student, I also think a lot about issues of data ownership and privacy, particularly with respect to the corporatocracy. So, like you, but, importantly, unlike many “regular” users regardless of race or SES, an opportunity to disrupt the “you’re the product” economy struck me as immensely appealing.

The “geek culture/values” you write about are about wanting to keep Twitter a content- and user-agnostic platform, not about caring who the users are. I don’t know about you, but to me, “the beauty of a follow model” has been that I can choose — or, dare I say, curate — my Twitter community. And that’s the whole point: the way I use Twitter is as a platform, as infrastructure. It’s not a platform company’s job to curate the content I see; that’s the job of a media company. That’s why developers — and many users, like me — are upset.

As with any platform, my daily life isn’t impacted by who else uses the infrastructure. I don’t particularly care who else has a phone, who else uses electricity, or who else drives a car. What I care about in a macro sense is equality of access.

That distinction, I think, is what is somewhat lost in your post. Is the cost to get in high right now? Yes. Remember the cell phone commercial in the mid-’90s that was a take-off on the Grey Poupon ads? “Do you have a cellular phone?” “Well so do I!” I don’t have the data in front of me, but I think the latest Pew numbers show that 50% of blacks have smartphones, while only 30-something% of whites do. If less than $5/month is unaffordable to someone with a smartphone, I’ll be honest: I’d question that person’s priorities.

So, like I said in my original comment, I absolutely am concerned about online privacy becoming a privilege rather than a right. We’re at the very beginning of what I hope will be a broader market shift away from treating personal information as currency and back to treating, well, currency as currency. New sociotechnical systems will have to be built to support that. Let the those who are traditionally early adopters be the ones who have to put up with the bugs, the fail whales (or whatever they’ll be called), and everything else that goes along with immature systems. They know what they’re getting into. And, yes, they can afford to put up the “are you serious” money.

But down the road a little bit? “Are you on” “Well so am I!”


I’ll admit it: hearing about today’s Google Doodle Moog synth pulled me in from DuckDuckGo. After messing around a bit this morning, I think I’ve figured out all the knobs in the Oscillators section. I’m hoping to figure out the details of the other sections later.

Basically, there are three oscillators. The two big knobs control the tuning offset from the primary (i.e. nonadjustable) oscillator. The three knobs on the left control the octave of the fundamental of each of the three (measured in feet as a reference to tube length in an organ, I’m assuming); the knobs on the right switch the shape of the wave (sawtooth, square, etc.) of each oscillator, affecting the harmonic structure.

Notes in versus

A summary of my notes from Patrick’s MTS talk:

  • ICT skill vs. interactional skill
  • Skills vs. norms
  • Norms vs. affordances
  • Tech properties vs. norms
  • Functionality vs. norms
  • Materiality vs. practice
  • Knowledge vs. practice
  • Understanding vs. enacting

Social Norms and Cyberasociality

Back in the day, it was assumed that people couldn’t form social relationships online because as a medium, text didn’t transmit the nonverbal cues necessary to support relationship development and maintenance. Then, in the mid-1990s, Joe Walther proposed the Social Information Processing (SIP) model of relationship development.

A big piece of SIP was that the rate of social information transmission is lower than other, more cue-rich media (like face-to-face), but over time just as much social information can be transmitted through a text-based channel. It then goes on to suggest that this is possible because users adapt the limited medium of text in ways that enable richer communication using what have come to be called CMC cues (e.g. capitalization, letter repetition, emoticons, chronemics, etc.). I call this the temporal cue density hypothesis, and it’s what I’m working on empirically testing now.

Studies that look for CMC-cue effects on social outcomes such as trust, likability, and rapport (e.g., Byron & Baldridge, 2007, Walther & D’Addario, 2001) generally work like this:

  • show someone a message
  • ask them what they thought of the message sender
  • manipulate the cues
  • show someone else the message
  • ask them what they thought of the message sender
  • do math

Now, the simplicity of this story may be about to be disrupted. Studies like these all have an implicit underlying assumption: all, or at least most, people within a culture interpret social cues in similar ways1. Therefore, interpretation of CMC cues is assumed to be universal.

Cyberasociality is an empirically-backed concept proposed by Zeynep Tufekci which states that one’s inability or unwillingness to feel socially engaged by online media is a fundamental social-psychological, or even perceptual, trait of that person.

She describes it this way: language is a primarily aural construct, with reading and writing added on top as a brain-hack of visual symbolic abstraction, and some people, regardless of other cognitive abilities, have difficulty reading because of dyslexia. In much the same way, sociality evolved as a primarily — and primally — face-to-face ability. Like literacy, being social in text with abstract representations of other people is a brain hack, and one that not everyone’s brain is equally suited to perform.

If this is true, the very conception of online social norms as, well, normative may be broken.

  1. This type of study does often test for interactions with personality traits like extraversion, but in light of Cyberasociality, those traits may not be the real reason for differences between subjects in the same experimental condition. 

Fiction suggestions

Thanks to everyone who gave me book suggestions! I put Hunger Games on my iPad last night and am enjoying it.

Aravind Adiga – The White Tiger
Isaac Asimov – The Foundation Trilogy
Bernard Beckett – Genesis
Aimee Bender — The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Ernest Cline – Ready Player One
Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games
Susan Cooper – The Dark is Rising Sequence
Bryce Courtenay – The Power of One
Jonathan Franzen – Freedom
Robert A.Heinlein – The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Khaled Hosseini – The Kite Runner
Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible
Jhumpa Lahiri – Unaccustomed Earth
Yann Martel – Life of Pi*
Stephenie Meyer – Twilight**
Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn
Gary Shteyngart – Super-Sad True Love Story
Neal Stephenson – Diamond Age
Jonathan Swift – Gulliver’s Travels

* means I’ve already read this
** means I hope this suggestion was in jest ;)

Why I’m still on Facebook

We’ve been hearing a lot of bad stuff about Facebook lately. I’ve been giving Facebook a lot of grief myself, lately, too. I hate that I’m their product not their customer, I hate what it does to my sanity (it’s too easy to become reliant on it for social affirmation), and I hate what it can do to my ability to focus (brb, checking FB…).

In this post, though, I want to address the other side of an internal debate: why I am still on Facebook. The primary reason is that, put simply, I derive utility from the service. Lately, the cost–benefit analysis has been coming down on the side of keeping my account open. (The other reason, of course, is that I need to have access to Facebook professionally.)

Being relatively new to a community, Facebook plays three important roles: phatic, event awareness, and ad-hoc organizational.

Many of the people I’ve been meeting, I’ve met through events in the Jewish community. That means I’m affiliating myself with a community that I’ll only see once a week, and that is at least forty-five minutes away by train. The phatic function of Facebook posts can be a way to establish stronger connections — or at the very least help ensure I exist more than just once a week.

Chicago has a rather dynamic community; there’s almost always some sort of service or dinner or event to attend on Friday nights. The way to find out about these events, though, is almost exclusively through Facebook. Finding out about a group or organization and Liking it is, if not the only way, certainly the most efficient way to stay in the loop about goings-on. Plus, many request RSVPs so they can plan appropriately. Ad-hoc organizing (e.g. “Anyone want to go to…”) happens less often, but it does happen, usually in the realm of finding out about shows to attend.

And of course, as one whose academic interests span the user interfaces, social behavior, and broader implications of systems like Facebook, I do have something of a professional obligation to at least keep tabs on what’s happening in the world of Facebook. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. ;)

Personally, though, I eagerly await the day I feel comfortable enough to close my Facebook account.

Quantify everything?

When I first started using Pro Tools (audio editing/mixing software), it frustrated me that it didn’t afford doing everything by the numbers like Photoshop. Then I stepped back and asked, “Yes, but does it sound good?”

We’re the commons

Have any economists modeled the consuming public/workforce as a public good?

It seems to me that corporations are playing a game-theoretic game in which they individually want to pay less money and employ fewer people while simultaneously hoping other corporations will keep employing people and paying them enough to maintain a customer base for their product. In other words, a social contract.

What we’re seeing now is the result of too many corporations defecting over the past 30 years. A tragedy of the commons, where we’re the commons.

The flip side of this chain reaction, of course, is that consumers demand lower and lower prices because they can’t afford what they used to. In order to compete, companies are forced to send manufacturing jobs to countries where labor costs are lower, so even more people can’t afford what they used to.

How do we stop it?

Cyberpunk Apple Consumerism

Interesting perspective, but how is it different from any other infrastructure? Specialization and abstraction are trade-offs for a complex society. Turn on the faucet, water comes out. People don’t want to have to care where it comes from, how it got clean, or how it got to their tap. Same for information: press a button, information comes out. That people don’t want agency in all aspects of their lives is not necessarily bad: remember your grandma.

RT @pjrey: “Apple isn’t selling a product, it’s selling an illusion.”