Section 1: Living Data Chapter 4:Seeing Things Differently
Arriving in DC, Casey caught the Red Line to Virginia. Wrestling her suitcase up the long escalator, out of breath, she spotted Sally at the coffee/pastry shop. Their Whisperers attempted an interlock until Casey’s realized it was not being worn. The two friends could update in person now and later compare accuracy of their CumuLinker profiles.
Sally met Casey at the coffee shop door. She flashed a pamphlet showing a famous 80-year-old actress.
“Are you up for a play at the Kennedy Center tonight?”, Sally asked. “You should enjoy city life, forget technology, let’s catch up on culture.”
Casey stopped her. “Hey, Sally, I’m rusty about walking with a visually impaired person. Do I walk to your right or left? Hold your arm or vice versa? ”
Sally laughed. “Relax! Walk your suitcase to your left, stay a bit in front of me, and I’ll follow since I can see your colorful hat. Is that left over from the Trickster Election?”
Casey nodded, “Yes, I don’t get to symbolize often. Let’s stop at the wine bar across the plaza. I’m hungry!”
Sally asked the waiter for a window table with a dark blue tablecloth. Casey’s mind flashed back to Rule #1 on Sally’s Accessibility 101 Guide: ‘Contrast, contrast contrast!’.
Casey pulled out a menu and looked over at Sally. “I’ll bet you’re wondering why I’m here early.”.
Sally said, “Not really. Somebody tweeted about a Whisperer fiasco at a college reunion last night. It sounded like a nasty moment, and definitely not a promo for CumuLinker. Tell me about it later”
Casey scanned the menu. “What would you like? Should I read the menu to you or do you have a Braille version?”
Sally drabbed her iPhone. “Braille, nah? I could look up the restaurant and read the PDF, but I’m not picky. How about we share appetizers. I really like things that come on sticks. And a carafe of Chablis, too.”
Casey turned to Sally. “Ok by me. I have to ask. Are you friend or foe of CumuLinker?”
Sally said, “Both. I’ve given up on privacy. I have to do that damned CumuLinker son-of-Facebook to keep in touch with my family members in New Mexico.”
she touched the Whisperer wrapped around her shoulder. “I even joined the phony CumuLinker Accessibility advisory panel. When the Whisperer came along, I realized for the first time, I’d know who I was speaking with at a meetup. I’m more social now, especially with my accessibility consulting practice. The Whisperer helps identify swamp critters left over from the you-know-what.”
Casey smiled. “Interesting use case! I never thought about a Whisperer as assistive technology.”
Sally nodded. “Actually, I’ve become a Whisperer voice coach. When the device speaks an acquaintance’s profile into their ear, many people freeze up with what I call Synthetic Voice Shock. We Vision Losers listen to these voices all the time, even speed them up. Sighted people lack our powers of concentration. Amazing, huh?”
Casey nodded, “Cool! I found Whisperer usable enough. My voices and earables tune to my brain speed and capacity. Sally, you live in a different world! I envy your skills.”
“You betcha!” Sally asked, “What else happened at the reunion?”
Casey shrugged. “Geez, I was only there for 3 hours, just enough to catch up with my grieving friends Alice and Patrick. Hey, I won the Whisperer Adornment contest! I’m a techno-fashionista now.”
Sally raised her wine glass for a clink. “An what’s the prize?”
“Casey laughed, “I get five versions of ‘Life Replayed’. Professional, geographical, hobbies, romantic, I forget the other. I really don’t want to go back over so many life episodes. Most are out of context, some happy, some sad.”
Casey looked away and sipped her wine. “It’s life CumuLinker at the Pearly Gates. I’ll manage my own memories, don’t need no stinking algorithms or big data. How would you like your own life replayed?”
Sally flashed a book cover on the back of her phone. “I blogged my memoirs, ‘As Your World Changes’. Know-it-all CumuLinker leaves out the best parts of my career, like that 1980s event in Japan where we invaded the male sushi bars.”
She turned off the screen curtain and handed her iPhone to Casey. “Here, you can read about that period in our lives. Which way is the restroom”.
Casey pointed her finger, then laughed at herself. “Three tables forward, one to the right, ladies on the left. Beware the hustling waiters.”
Casey ordered more wine. She scrolled through Sally’s blog to gather new information about her long-ago colleague. Sally was weaving her way back to their table as if she’d memorized the path. “Sally, I admire how you control your life. Changing the subject, do you know anything about that Pink Page Rampage showing up on Twitter?”
Sally chuckled. “Pink Page analysis is my new hobby. There’s a systemic vulnerability in the Web that makes it easy to deface web pages, well at least for insiders. Anybody mad at a company or person can mess up a website with just a few keystrokes. It’s the DOM, CSS, JS triad. Do you know what I mean?”
Casey mumbled the expanded names, “‘Domain Object Model’, ‘Cascading Style Sheets’, I don’t do them, but ‘Java Script’ I can still muddle through.”
Sally sipped her wine. “Very good! I’ve heard there’s a Silicon Valley female who got screwed over for promotion, or maybe a group of over-40 old folks fighting for respect. These disgruntled experts might use Tor to secretly channel advice to attackers.”
Sally flicked her screen to remind Casey how VoiceOver compensated for her low vision. ” “Actually, it’s not even clear there’s a crime since the page content is intact, just unreadable. Well, except for us with the skills to sneak under the style stuff. Our tools use the DOM and ignore CSS. We can live without pictures or advertising graphics.”
Casey sputtered, “but, it costs to fix…”.
Sally continued, “Yes, defacing a website is ‘denial of service’, but only for companies not on top of their maintenance and recovery practices. Pink Page Flu might cure the Web of some unhealthy designs and clutter practices. As Sir TimBL says, ‘The World Wide Web is a mess!’.”
Casey threw down her napkin. “Even worse, we algorithm designers and data scientists have already messed up the world. Literally, like electing the Great Trickster.”
They paused while sirens wailed in the street. ” How do you survive, living in D.C., those motorcades and that tower, whoops, I forgot you can’t see it.”
Sally sighed, “I write my own fiction to stay sane. How about you?”
Casey paused. “My reunion brought back memories of freshman year humanities classes. I was lost then, but I’ve become a mature,just-in-time learner in my retirement peer learning program. I was astounded by five lectures on the cyclical trickster who comes into a culture to force change. The sexual stories are amusing, but those Native American and African tales read like yesterday’s news.”
She threw down her napkin. “Here’s my theory. The Great Trickster is simply non-human. His disruptions are clever, but silly. Instead, I ask myself ‘What’s the value that’s lost or threatened? What needs to change?'”.
Sally nodded, “We all need a theory to survive this period. Hey, let’s go for a walk.”
As they circled a neighborhood path, Casey pulled down a lilac bloom for Sally to smell. “We have these in DellVille. I miss the Eastern evening lightning bugs.”
Casey continued, “I’ve been thinking about my new role as an NSF Research Threat Predictor. Did they pick me for my name?”
Sally laughed, “Cassandra, you’re known for your ability to describe how systems fail. We one-time Division Directors admit that the Threat Predictor role was invented because researchers get too optimistic about innovations. They never learned the lessons from the Morris Worm, let alone the debate about Reagan’s “Star Wars”. Those were before Web Time, known only to Technology and Society scholars, plus us old-timers.”
She continued, ” The main social issue that interest today’s Computer Science and Engineering profession relate to its diversity problem. Then another challenge arose. That Facebook ‘fake news’ takedown sobered up the industry, didn’t it? Departments even teach ethics now, or try to.”
Casey doffed her hat. “Yes, indeed! I’ll be there to interrogate reviewers about the hazards introduced by so-called innovations. I’ll remind them of relevant incidents in the 3 decades of the Risks Digest. Plus, I’ll cite authors from the Social Media Resistance movement whose prophecies over the past decade have proved out.”
Sally cheered, “Those chips on your shoulders will be flying in all directions! This is your destiny, my friend.”
Casey continued, “I always ask, ‘ ‘How do you test that device if it’s built?
‘ Is there Any chance the code in that device is verifiable and certifiable for security? Show me your hazard analysis.’ Luckily this is a one-shot gig and I’m too retired to need funding. The reviewers are going to hate me, but maybe we’ll finally inject caution into the research process.”
They walked in silence, now comfortable with the cane leading the way. Sally asked, “Are you up on the ‘Rebuild the Web’ movement? I think of the simplicity from early HTML and being a netizen and owning one’s own website and deciding what publication to read and paying them enough to publish. I’m wondering if you and I could work together to educate the WWW after each Pink Page attack?”
Casey attempted a high-five. ” Of course, each attack is a case to be solved, for curiosity sake if we don’t want to get legal. How about it, my dear Watson?”