Section 5: ‘Complex Consequences’
Section 5: Complex Consequences’ — Chapter 1: ‘Chips Fall’
late May 2019 Los Alamos to Albuquerque New Mexico.
Casey’s morning trip to Bandolier Ruins was early in the season which gave her choices of ladders to climb to view ancient households. She pondered if these inhabitants had been trading partners with the natives who left their archeological traces around Lake Willow near her home in Dellville.
On her way back to Los Alamos she stopped at a Dairy Queen, then caught up with Sally at Marilyn’s home. The living room was strewn with pictures to use at the memorial service a month off. Sally and Marilyn seemed relieved that their plans were now set. They were waiting for elder daughter Alicia’s return from her junior year in Germany to hold their ceremony.
Casey and Sally had stowed luggage for yet another hotel night before the next day’s early flights to their respective homes. Both were mentally gearing up for a coordinated exploration of Punk Page attacks. They looked forward to operating as a team formed at the previous evening’s dinner. “Millennial Matt”, as they now called their entrepreneurial, if historically deficient, much younger colleague would soon be off to his British graduate study. All five now had a part-time summer project until September brought life changes. Casey congratulated herself for finding multi-generational and intellectually diverse allies.
Two hours later Sally and Casey were driving down the mountain. They discussed their project name, ‘Team 3G’. That seemed to capture their human generational differences with a side hint of technology evolution. One rejected name had psychological overtones.
Casey asked, “That idiom we talked about at dinner is intriguing. Do you know the original meaning of ‘A Chip on My Shoulder’?”
Sally turned her head to look at Casey then fumbled with ear bud that had dislodged on her right side. “I was just looking it up. You’re more literary than me. That question has stumped two computing elders at once. Let’s stop for some coffee so I can hold a seance with my iPhone Siri.”
Sally juggled her equipment as the car tipped around a long bend in the highway. Casey spotted a gas station with signs to Eat Here!. Its lot was filled with big motorcycles with silver mufflers and bulging side pouches. A few beat-up trucks filled the remaining parking spaces. Colorful strings of chili’s bordered the entrance to a building that appeared to be left over from World War II.
Casey exclaimed, “My mother always advised choosing eateries by number of parked cars. Generalize that advice to all vehicles and a vintage building and we might find a change of ambience from our more upscale restaurant meals of the past two days. Let’s stop here and join the hogs.”
Sally nodded agreement. After gassing up, Casey moved the car under a stand of pine trees so they could do their idiom homework in the shade. Their little rented Toyota Corolla seemed out of place as the motorcycles pulled from the lot onto the open road.
After the roars died down Casey pointed to Sally’s jabbering iPhone. “Geez, doesn’t that voice make your head spin?”
Sally smiled, “Nope, low vision enhances speed listening,by forcing concentration. Maybe humans have an audio working memory system that holds the last ten seconds while the brain is finding the best associations for the audio content.”
Casey laughed, “You low vision folks have different bodily systems going, don’t you? That ‘speed listening’ feature seems useful for Whisperers also. Maybe slowing down speech through our hearables has made it harder to listen comfortably and accurately. Who knew?”
Sally nodded as she flipped the buttons that slowed the speech rate to two hundred words per minute. “I’ll be uncomfortable at this slow voice but I respect the needs of the listening-impaired.”
Casey shrugged. “Now, what did you learn about the ‘shoulder chip’ idiom?”
Sally muttered, “OK, the venerable Wikipedia gives a pedantic explanation about sawmill workers taking boards home, then losing some rights, and blah blah blah. But, hey, I found a song from a Broadway musical and a ponderous poem. “
She continued, “Sorry, I got off track. Seriously, there are several definitions which boil down to a grievance plus persistent anger and an attitude of fighting to remedy the perceived wrong. Or, as my taxi driver Mike would say, ‘somebody who goes around mad all the time’.”
Casey’s shoulders drooped. “Ouch! But, the grievance could also mimic ‘imposter syndrome’. I always picked the wrong battles where I felt inadequate. Then I got frustrated and I upset the old guys in charge.”
Sally nodded, “For sure. ‘Imposter syndrome’ afflicted me until I finished my book and got tenure. It’s really prevalent, even hurting that charming Claremont university president.
Casey nodded. “Hey, maybe naming the condition will control the symptoms. Usually I get so angry that I sputter. A few days later, when everybody else has forgotten the situation, I finally figure out my reactions. I wonder if training with Whisperers can overcome imposter-itis or that shoulder chip thing.”
They opened the car doors to let the warm late afternoon breezes rustle their clothes. Sally popped her ear buds into her neck pouch and stowed her iPhone. Casey glanced across the view of the mesa that she wished her friend could share. For a few minutes, they simply enjoyed silence.
Twenty feet away, a red truck pulled up and out jumped three women. Each held some kind of electronic device.
“We have company. They are probably geocachers, three women.”, Casey explained to Sally.
Her Whisperer locked with that of the youngest looking woman of the trio. The lady’s profile described a variety of hobbies plus her favorite books and travels. Casey’s own profile featured her nerdy activities and current classes. Sally’s Whisperer was in ‘no-contact’ mode.
Casey realized the group were on hot pursuit of a hidden treasure. The geo-catcher waved to Casey as her friends scurried into the stand of pines while looking into shrubs. One emerged with a small black tube. She unfurled a roll of paper. Her facial expression turned from glee to annoyance as she read the paper’s message to her companions.
Casey turned her attention back to Sally. “Uh, Casey, you don’t have to tell me, but do you remember what triggered your ‘chip on your shoulder’? I’ve noticed you speaking through clenched teeth at odd moments.”
Casey thought a while, “There might have been other provocations, but I definitely remember two incidents in my aborted graduate work. My first advisor – left for another school without a parting word. I was pushing 30 and really wanted to get the degree. I felt abandoned.”
Sally shook her head. “I’m familiar with that. You build up a professional relationship laced with dependency. Then, poof, you must start over. This happens to lots of grad students. Yes, you were ditched.”
Casey groaned, “It gets worse. One day I had a draft of my thesis ready for review. I met with a widely renowned committee member who was proud of his recent graduate with a similar topic. That man slammed down my draft manuscript on the table.”
Casey threw up her hands. “Bang, the pages flew out of the binder. He muttered, ‘ Your work is not of the same quality as my student, Jim Prince!’ He seemed insulted by my topic and 200 page manuscript.”
She bent her head. ” I already knew my work suffered from immature ideas and wasn’t mainstream. I was devastated !”
Casey flexed her fingers, pretending to be typing madly. “Dammit, in those days we even designed our own fonts and were unwitting testers for an early Xerox printer. Sitting in an overly cooled room to protect that precious machine, I had typed my fingers and eyes to exhaustion. Now those beautifully printed pages were scattered around his office. I started to cry and left without picking up my manuscript.”
Sally shook her head. “So, you were at this prestigious place, dumped into thesis limbo. But maybe the big cheese was just challenging you to greater heights. Do you remember any constructive suggestions?”
Squirming at the suppressed memory, Casey let out a long sigh. “No, slamming down my thesis in front of me was so shocking I didn’t know what to say. Few classes were offered so my graduate cohort had to create our own research seminar. We often read papers at home, then came in for lunch where we scrawled out ideas on brownie plates at the cafeteria then wandered back to our offices or apartments. I never got deeply into any advanced topic or received much feedback on my own half-vast ideas. Grad school was a sick joke!”.
Realizing she’d never put together all these miseries, Casey concluded, “The combination of career uncertainty and a family illness just hit me all at once. I dropped out: All But Dissertation. I just didn’t feel fit for academic positions after those encounters. I thought I might be better as a staff researcher. I liked being a programmer, tester and documenters. And I was good.”
Sally patted her shoulder, as if brushing off chips of scorn. “Casey, I’m so sorry to hear that. You’ve done lots more as independent researcher than many academics, and you know that. It’s sad that the grievance lasted your lifetime.”.
Casey glanced out the window. The geocachers were unpacking some paper and pencils.
She continued, “There were other circumstances. I was first generation to graduate college, which made me feel exemplary and at the same time inferior. I was woefully inexperienced, yet driven to succeed but stumbling on and off the career path leading into an immature technical field. I didn’t know any successful academics. And then I became gun-shy about relationships.
She laughed, “Sputnik fueled my educational opportunities, but I didn’t have the boosters to reach career orbit. Sorry, bad metaphor. Now, we’ve named it, I would like to hear that poem you mentioned for comparison.”
Sally pinched the text into her Voice Dreams app and chose the British Graham voice.
The Chip On Your Shoulder
Author: Edgar A. Guest
You’ll learn when you’re older that chip on your shoulder
Which you dare other boys to upset,
And stand up and fight for and struggle and smite for,
Has caused you much shame and regret.
When Time, life’s adviser, has made you much wiser,
You won’t be so quick with the blow;
You won’t be so willing to fight for a shilling,
And change a good friend to a foe.
You won’t be a sticker for trifles, and bicker
And quarrel for nothing at all;
You’ll grow to be kinder, more thoughtful and blinder
To faults which are petty and small.
You won’t take the trouble your two fists to double
When someone your pride may offend;
When with rage now you bristle you’ll smile or you’ll whistle,
And keep the good will of a friend.
You’ll learn when you’re older that chip on your shoulder
Which proudly you battle to guard,
Has frequently shamed you and often defamed you
And left you a record that’s marred!
When you’ve grown calm and steady, you won’t be so ready
To fight for a difference that’s small,
For you’ll know, when you’re older that chip on your shoulder
Is only a chip after all.
Casey dropped her head down on the steering wheel, then back to the head rest, pounding her fore head and sweeping her hands over her shoulders. “Ha, that makes sense! ‘Time is life’s adviser’. This gives me lots to think about, regrets and all, when I review those narratives from my Whisperer’s living data. Hey, why are we still sitting in this car? Let’s get some coffee, pie and chocolate to soothe over these insights.”
The geocacher trio were huddled around sheets of paper spread across the truck’s hood as they studied a colored page of text taped to the windshield. They paused to listen to their Whisperers reading our profiles then waved and returned to their writing activity.
Casey whispered to Sally, “I guessed they are working on a field puzzle or multi-cache. Don’t you envy their freedom and joy?”
Section 5: ‘Complex Consequences’ — Chapter 2: ‘Bad Models’
Honky-tonk tunes greeted Casey and Sally as they passed under the string of chili’s into the Roadside Cafe. Coffee brewed and someone was smoking. Sally’s white cane tapped along the cracked linoleum floor. Casey placed Sally’s hand on the back of a chair as she had been instructed.
Casey swerved around the empty tables to the counter. A bald man pointed to a menu on the wall. Iced lattes and cinnamon scones seemed out of place in this joint, but were just what she wanted at the moment. Back at the table, Sally held up two fingers as she overheard the order.
When Casey returned to the table, Sally was patting a large scruffy dog with its head in her lap. “Meet my new Sparky!” she whispered with sadness in her voice.
Mr. Sparky shuffled back to his master, who was watching the two unusual customers. Ceiling fans hummed as they relaxed with their treats. Casey broke open her thoughts to include her companion.
“Ok, Sally, surely you have your share of grievances and anger and disputes. Come on, fess up.”
“Actually, I didn’t do much disputing or fighting during my career or in personal relationships. That cost me an ulcer. Now the disability thing has dropped a whole bag of chips on my aging frame. I finally figured out how to describe disability. Are you ready to learn some messy models?”
Casey nodded, “You got my chips flying. I’ll listen to your theory.”
“My congenital vision loss eventually caught up with me. Myopic degeneration isn’t popular with eye doctors. That point of view is called the medical model. Such conditions have to be fixable, or you get cast into the hopeless category, which — sniff sniff — hurts your poor eye doctor’s feelings.”
Casey asked, “Like, really, when the eye doctors give up, or can no longer charge treatment to insurance, do they just let the person leave their office without hope?”
Sally pounded the table. “I’m sorry to say, yes! Too many doctors look down on the vision rehab profession and the simple practices that can make life reasonably comfortable. “
She flashed her iPhone. “Remember our conversation in DC a while back? I told you about MDSupport, my mobility trainer, and my vision mentor. Wonderful friends took me shopping for assistive technology, once even at the same time as Stevie Wonder! I found my own way to survive by listening to podcasts on disability and assistive technologies. My learning and research skills saved me.”
Casey cracked up. “Oh, I shouldn’t laugh, that’s awful. But I imagine you shaking your fist at the sky outside a retinal specialist’s office and a cascade of chips — maybe ice cubes or hail — piling up on your shoulders.”
Sally ramped up her lecture. “The complementary so-called social model suggests that any disability limitations really reside in society. These should be fixed by attitudes like universal design. Examples are the ways buildings are constructed and sidewalk signs are regulated. This applies to all disabilities. And situations like curb cuts for wheelchairs benefit almost everybody. It’s like the software rule that a missed requirement costs more to fix as time goes on. Dammit, it’s not my low vision but my environment that causes problems.”
Grasping her iPhone, Sally continued “There are some great usability examples, like how Steve Jobs understood accessible design. It’s sad how so many smart nerds can’t grasp the concept of different types of people using their work. Someday they will be 40 and their eyes will change, their fingers cramp, their senses boggle at complexity, and their minds reel from advertising and ‘like button’ overload. Good riddance!”
She mopped up her spilled coffee. ” And, don’t get me started on those so-called social clubs called charities!!”
Casey shushed her. “So, what you got against charities, Sally? People give big bucks to help, don’t they, and charities carry the load for the donors and usually do something useful.”
Sally shook her head. “Nope, not in my value system. Some charities think blind people are their tickets to heaven because we are too afflicted to know what’s best for us. And, most charities carve off a very small part of the problem, then dress up their activities with boards, offices, bylaws, pancake breakfasts, and other organization rigmarole. They don’t work to understand the whole problem. They just look for a few unfortunate specimens to service, then proclaim their mission accomplished. Bullshit!”
She was winding down. “No, I’m not anybody’s ticket to heaven, and if you’re not willing to learn from me just because I’m high performing, then to hell with you.”
Casey clapped, “Now, the chips are flying! And we Tabs better listen up. See what you taught this ‘Temporarily Able Bodied’ soul.””
Sally drained her latte. “Well, that’s my ‘Last Lecture’, at least for this trip.”
Some eaves-dropper tuned the nickelodeon to entertain the sparse cafe crowd with the spirited musical production Legally Blond. The show’s boot-strapping law student — challenging the rich underachiever — preached that “some crazy ‘chip on our shoulder’ is better than becoming less than our capabilities”.
Reaching for her last bite of scone, Sally laughed at her empty plate. She patted his head as Sparky licked the crumbs from his whiskers. Noting Sally’s white cane, Sparky’s master shouted “I cannot resist. Is this the ‘Blind leading the Blonde’?”
Back at their car, with the sun getting lower over the mountains, they got a surprise. Taped across their car’s windshield were three pages of text with red markings.
Casey explained the scene to Sally. “Our geocachers are long gone to their next treasures. They left us logic puzzles and a note: ‘Are you two brainiacs as smart as three retired nurses?’.”
Casey read one puzzle solution. It was about race car colors, drivers, ranks, and advertisers with an attached rid of x and o marks. She laughed “Damn! That’s one hard puzzle. I can’t wait to fire up ParaLog to check if the answer is correct and whether there are other answers.
Sally added, “Come to think of it, those lawyers I hang out with in disability circles often moan about the logic games they study to enter law school. They learn rigorous thinking, then end up with words and redactions.” “
Sally twirled her white cane. ” Casey, this proves we have an audience for our consequential thinking paradigm!”
And on they went to their respective destinations with clauses and deductions dancing in their minds.
Section 5: ‘Complex Consequences’ — Chapter 3: ‘Getting Grounded’
On the road from Albuquerque to DellVille.
Casey is thinking about her Los Alamos Team 3G gathering on the long unplanned road trip back to DellVille. She’s exhilarated at finding allies to work with, even if the Punk Page Rampage may be silly. Each member of Team 3G extends her professional interests and personal sense of diversity. She’d always enjoyed short-term projects where a goal takes over her life and creates follow-on opportunities.
Her leadership mindset built memory pockets for her teammates’ individual and collective skills and personalities. One by one they march through her memory as she drives past barren landscape.
Closest in age, Sally reprises Casey’s most productive career period and understands the progress of their respective fields. Plus, Sally familiarizes everyone she meets with disability life and how accessibility technicalities contribute to Punk Page problems.
Marilyn represents mid-career hopes all too easily crushed by ageism. But, she is in touch with high performance computing and national security policies. Will that woman revive twenty years of programming changes, going back to languages she studied in college that now require more experience with platforms and tools? She doesn’t seem interested in her Aunt’s accessibility consulting practices. She’s immersed in social media which is already over-represented in technology journalism. What advice does she need, or want?
Casey envies the programming prowess of young Bob and his wide open pathways into a computing-related profession, presumably steered some by the slightly older and wiser Matt. She approves of Matt’s retreat from entrepreneur ism after producing a worthy teenage advisory app. The Oxbridge School resembled the New England institute that organized software engineering curricula. He’s stepping into a new field at a critical time of social media power shifting. TIRex, also known as “surveillance capitalism”, still roams and decimates living data, but is beginning to look like, well, a dinosaur, as its weaknesses are displayed even in Congress.
Casey has her mutual mature relationship with Gavin to explore and preserve the meaning of their careers as they sage their way into, well, forget that destination.
She’s a bit jealous of her team-mate’s opportunities, especially as she feels less weighted down by nasty shoulder chips. Did she long ago over-react to harsh criticism? Would her thesis have gone in the toilet anyway?
Actually, she’d had a satisfying career centered around that second graduate school experience as the software engineering field bloomed. ? She’d managed to become bi-tribal by learning and practicing the techniques from major, competing fields of software quality. She could test, prove, and refactor programs, and she knew the trade-offs of cost and quality for individual and combined approaches. Plus, she enjoyed each tribal community for its own personalities.
Maybe she’d sometime have the opportunity to tell the world what it discarded when the Web took over, like rigorous hypertext, groupware, syndication, design theory, and consequential reasoning.
Oh, the joy of programming! Her deep disappointment about the rapid rise and fall of ParaLog and consequential computing had flipped back into enthusiasm. Yesterday, she watched geocachers apply the principles to logic games, which Sally pointed out were also relevant in entry testing for law school. Her hopes for exploiting ParaLog on Whisperers required serious reconsideration when she’d settled back in DellVille.
Whoops, she’d missed the exit to the last rest stop for 60 miles! Just then she saw the roadside sign “This stretch of highway adopted by XXX charity.”
Sally’s explosive anger yesterday replayed in her mind, “Tell charities I’m not their ticket to heaven unless they’re willing to invest in learning how I overcome my life’s difficulties.” Was this XXX charity another organization that treasured its social meetings, planned an annual trash pickup, but ignored climate change and public transportation? Were they aware of the oldest El Norte city on a far-off bluff? Did XXX realize the government shutdown of 2019 decimated a Native American school and village she glimpsed in her rear view mirror?
She appreciated that @AccessSally was a pool of knowledge and experience that needed to erupt intermittently to achieve action. Maybe the new DellVille low vision center would invite Sally to their opening ceremony to spread her knowledge and spirit in the social model, to hell with the medical overlords.
Hmmm, perhaps the Punk Page Rampage was not so silly. Everybody must have some point of personal defense. The Rampage exposed the Web’s vulnerabilities to defacement using accepted engineering tools. Disgruntled insiders populated the dark side of software engineering, like any industry. The Great Trickster’s tweets and press conferences and campaign events had opened the wounds and injustices felt by many citizens. Powerful tricks then expressed the monster’s approval of insults and threats against individuals and institutions. Virtual chips had been laid onto shoulders with nasty dares to knock them off.
She laughed at the next podcast queued on her iPhone. Finally, the computing education field was trying to figure out bias as in “weapons of match destruction”. Now, ethics training was gaining traction by adopting threat casting scenarios as an additional requirement for software quality verification and validation.
“OMG, I need to tend to my own troubles!”, she yelled, as the wheels dropped noisily off then back onto the roadway. That thump-thump-thump triggered her survival juices to flow.
Casey felt a moment of cold amazement that she’d found herself on some kind of No Fly list when she showed up at the airport early this morning. No agents were available to discuss her predicament so she headed to the rental car counter assuming she could work out the situation back in DellVille, possibly with help from Detective Swank from her Vocal Terrorism adventure.
That word jolted her. Was she now a suspected terrorist? Yes, indeed, she had discovered the ParaLog entry point to Whisperers and knew how to use it for computational snooping. She’d just begun to experiment and found one hot tip that might free her jailed client. Did CumuLinker have evidence out there in the social graph of private data collected during the Social Media Privilege era? Could CumuLinker’s social graph solve the murder case?
Wasn’t there an age limit on suspicion of terrorism? No, the cloak of age and presumption of over-the-hill skills hadn’t protected her. She had trusted CumuLinker. Their process, called CALM, using Whisperers as third-party introduction agents, worked well. She’d heard rumors that Whisperer meetup profiles were matched to focus on an event’s topic by presenting agreements and disagreements in a format that fit the “art of logic” that advanced discussions and avoided digressions and outright arguments. Casey wasn’t sure which computing celebrity formulated this concept nor the location of the research laboratory managing the current behavior modification experiments. Whatever, she’d stumbled into their panoptic on.
Now she saw a role for CumuLinker CALM for negotiation in Punk Page skirmishes.
Dear attacker, … you seem to have a problem with … We fixed our web site appearance, even rewrote the section you defaced, and reflected on our message. But we would also like to repair our relationship with you attackers. Here is an … ‘Art of Logic’ pattern as a negotiation template. Please check our definitions, the pattern quantifiers and phrasing. Later we can investigate the consequences of our different logical arguments. OK?
This negotiation proposal might be interesting for Team 3G. Casey needed some idea to justify her role as de facto team leader. Even more, she wanted a mission to use the Punk Page Rampage to reverse Great Trickster’s ugly effects on society. Exposing and reversing some web page vulnerabilities could also hasten the overhaul of the WWW.
“All I need is RSS and Twitter”, she laughed to herself.
Finally reaching the rest stop, Casey collected messages from other Team 3G.
Sally wants simpler web pages. She sees bloat, mixed use cases, overdone CSS. But she also wished for an industry overhaul to provide good mid- and late-career work for designers as the WWW was simplified. Maybe real 1980s style hypertext and 1950s MEMEX concepts might be revived.
Marilyn wants a journalism starter kit, mumbled something about a podcast, worries that she needs to clean up her social media act. She’d done nothing wrong just needed clear-minded ways to present herself to editors, other journalists, and the public.
Marilyn was also a bit worried about Bob and Little Bro. She knew he was prone to hero worship. Dead fire fighters were on his mind. Marilyn would create reading list and solicit suggestions for technology heroes. He needed to submit a summer work product to justify his internship at a down-state research laboratory.
Matt would mentor Bob through some computer retro exercises like setting up RSS feeds. Matt would build a top 10 reasons to Rebuild the Web then apply it to incidents of Punk Page Rampage. He wanted a transition from entrepreneur to critic to planner.
Casey strolled around the rest stop perimeter pumping her arm at each productive suggestion from Team 3g, then dictated her CALM negotiation idea into a text message to her comrades. she was lousy at business, but still felt like a team leader.
Also, she found a repeated request from Gavin to schedule their next encounter. Ouch, that No Fly would be hard to explain! She pleaded desert allergies, assuring him her malady wasn’t valley fever.
The sun sinking into the desert transported her back two months to the evening on her deck as she prepared for the OMG Reunion. That trip, the Los Alamos nuclear shadow dinner, the catharses with Sally, joining Gavin’s life, and her No Fly predicament summoned her will to immerse herself in Team 3G. She was ready for a hot season and then those monster summer storms. Her problems would work out if she got back on track using her skills for the good of humanity, or so she believed.
— Section 5: ‘Complex Consequences’— Chapter 4:’Social Messes’
early June 2019online from Arlington VA and DellVille AZ and Los Alamos NM.
After their Team 3G bonding dinner in Los Alamos came an unusual opportunity for Casey and Sally and Marilyn to help each other. Marilyn asked her elders for advice about her public image if she follows her dream to become a technology journalist. The older duo welcome this opportunity to explore multi-generational attitudes toward Internet life spanning the Dawn of Web Time.
A half hour before their meeting at 10 a.m., Casey was awakening after a late night programming spree. Her ParaLog code was deducing new facts to the DellVille Community Social Graph. She’d added some clauses about locations, travel times, and persons related to the evening of the Despicable Stockbroker murder case. Clues were emerging.
With her coffee cooler in hand, she pulled herself to her laptop, leaned back in her recliner, and let her memories drift. A long yellow T-shirt would be enough clothing for this online sharing, she decided, as she was too tired to dress. For sure, this family meeting would be a new experience.
How had she first met Sally? Ah, time flies. Their online paths often crossed in the 1980s on the Usenet worldwide discussion network. The comp.specification newsgroup collected references related to Sally’s theoretical studies and Casey’s practical quality assurance pursuits. They each heard about the Japanese Fifth Generation Project then found travel funds to attend its publicized conference. Consulting opportunities were opening up in American industry that felt threatened by successful Japanese industrial processes now applied to software products. Economists were grabbing book opportunities and government agencies were puzzling over policies.
Each was surprised to see another American woman seated among the rows of dark-suited businessmen. Crossing paths in the empty women’s restroom, they agreed to meet for a tour of Tokyo sushi bars that night. Feeling isolated in smokey after-hours business settings, the new acquaintances found common interests. They soon outlined a short paper for ‘Doctor Dobbs Journal’ on ‘Consequential Reasoning for Screening Health Care Preconditions’ with a short example in a dialect of the ParaLog language.
Casey’s recent visit to DC recreated their appreciation of female professional friendships in a field dominated by males from many international cultures. She sensed what Marilyn was facing as an isolated female defining her professional image at a difficult life transition. Marilyn knew the sexism score but worried more about ageism.
Casey was uneasy at personal/professional boundaries. Her Whisperer ‘Life Replayed’ timeline shook her into realizing how her private relationships were only hinted at among the sequence of jobs,, relocations, and publications during her 40 years post-college. She was unsure why she kept her current relationship with Gavin under wraps, telling herself she wanted to maintain her individual image until they were more committed to each other. She had continued to practice lessons from Sally’s prodding to reveal that chip on her shoulder, which had complicated her many dust-ups with colleagues. Especially now, she didn’t want an outburst to drive Gavin away from their revived relationship. Maybe she’d finally learned from time, her life adviser, to suppress that long-ago grad school fiasco.
An iPhone notification dinged about a special message for the meeting. Marilyn had e-mailed a long, wandering note about her personal image concerns. She needed reassurance and focus. An agent had shown interest in her “Back stories of computing lives” proposal to build on vignettes from insiders who can explain the critical decisions of their career pathways. The desperate need for computing industry diversity promised an audience. Anecdotes from their Nuclear Shadow Dinner with clueless Millennial Matt populated her kick-starter. The agent had requested her biography.
Marilyn realized that a nonfiction writer requires a clean and clear professional online image. Like many of her generation, she has immersed herself in social media groups. How should she portray her modern self to editors and publishers and readers? She aims to be the fresh trustworthy voice who translates personal life experience and programming skills into the language of computational thinking now accessible to a public awash in devices
Simultaneously, in Washington, Sally sat down at her screen reading laptop with a nice iced Chai tea for their 3-way conversation to diagnose Marilyn’s complex situation. One ear bud channeled incoming conversations while the other voiced her laptop interactions.
Marilyn had instructed her elders on their audio-video-screen sharing setup, which gave the feeling of sitting at their dinner back in Los Alamos, minus the Margaritas and their young bud, Millennial Matt. Marilyn opened the meeting with the group photo of three women and one young male, all holding out smart phones showing a colorful 3-level graphic icon for Team 3G. That brought a laugh as they sensed each other’s physical presence when Sally guessed the picture.
Casey opened their questioning. “You have a unique name,. Will you remain ‘Marilyn Maxxson’ with the XX?”
Marilyn groaned, “I have a lingering distaste for that byline. My parents named me after that blonde bombshell of the 1950s. And I am blonde myself, now mixed with gray. Retaining my married name, Maxxson, elicits unfortunate confusion in spell correcting search engines. I’ll find out if a unique name is good or bad.”.
Sally had filled in Casey on Marilyn’s family life. Marilyn’s age, 45, is awkward. Soon completing a long anticipated divorce, her ex-husband now ensconced in a new job in Idaho, son Bob headed to college, she needs a new life. Technically trained in computing at the Dawn of Web Time, Marilyn thinks her skills are outdated. She is exploring those ‘return-ship’ opportunities advertised on Borg.org for women in computing.
It was Sally’s turn to question. “I recall our intermittent familial online get-together’s. Your children were young and Bob worried you. Marilyn, you have not been in the workforce for a while. But, still you kept active and learning. Let’s look at your resume activities.”
Marilyn seemed uncomfortable. ” Even that volunteer work with teenage Girl Scouts’ badges challenged my confidence. Cousins, and you aunts and uncles, had expected me to retrain then take my rightful place in the technology work force, which is always crying for American technical talent. Not so true! This is a no-go with my age so easily determined by algorithms and human resources and the competition with younger H1-B visa candidates.”
She sighed, ” Am I doomed to be primarily an assistant something-or-other for an office which values my organizational skills only until the next layoff? I don’t fit a startup and don’t like traditional organizations. And the 2016 shut-down exposed the merits of government work.
She continued. I want a niche that will last 20 years and lead to travel and recognition. My technical chats with you elder geek’s have revealed how deeply I feel the essence of code. I envision my iPhone apps in modern terms, as interfaces and events and abstractions with pre-conditions and non-terminating loops, and other terms to be explained to ‘computational thinkers’ as my potential audience. I grok innovation and innovators with the programmer’s mind and full awareness of sins and triumph of the profession. My intermittent journalism assignments gave me questioning skills that transfer to the general public. Then I digested many ideas during our ‘dining in history’ dinner.
Sally sipped her tea. This confession challenged her. “You have strengths you may not realize. Your generation is the last to remember life before the commercial Internet. You have skills in rigorous journalistic and programming practices often lacking in Millennial’s. Right?”
Sally continued, “Your two decades living at the side door of one of the nation’s most notorious laboratories offers unusual stories. Your values have been shaped thinking about nuclear arms, climate change, cyber security, and other big problems of society. “
Casey interjected, “Your life on the mesa had scary periods, as we learned on our visit. Your family home barely escaped wildfires. You can explain high performance computing climate models. This wealth of life experience should contrast with the Silicon Valley obsessions with 24/7 working geek’s. Go, big iron Mom!”
Sally asked, “Hey, Marilyn, do you remember our first email conversations, bypassing your parents, when you were mulling career directions? That was like in the age of PSI-net and CompuServe. Remember millions of their shiny CDs arriving in the mail and probably now resting in landfills? I guided you around the Usenet hierarchy, explained trolls, and how to lurk on alt.*. We didn’t get into any trouble, did we?”
Marilyn lifted a box from the shelf over her computer monitor. Casey laughed as a shiny disk appeared on their screens. “It’s been so long, is that AOL or CompuServe?” she asked.
Marilyn chuckled, “Neither, it’s the Global Network Navigator! Thanks for those memories, Aunt Sally.”
Casey asked, “Do you follow all those horror stories and social media mis-adventures reported daily in the press and on Twitter? Who could forget the 29 million acknowledged cheaters watching their credit card, addresses, and names float out of the purloined database? Sloppy, sloppy!”
Marilyn opened up. ” Yes, social media horror stories intrigue me. Those 2014 NPR author interviews for my favorite book Dragnet Nation spark my paranoia. They alerted me to the vast amount of personal information I must have spread about myself through data resellers and public records. That PeopleSmart search on myself was scary. Of course, I had my ‘friend’ data sucked into the 2017Facebook Cambridge Analytica controversy.”
Casey and Sally sensed that Marilyn needed a public image audit. Like their younger selves, they divided up tasks then determined the serial and parallel steps, briefly outlined the final report, and gave themselves a one week deadline.
Meantime, as the trio lightened up, Marilyn told how Bob’s science fair successes and his new chemist girl friend were jolting her matronly concerns. All the relatives and family friends were celebrating his Science Fair honors for that wildfire simulator that earned him so many scholarship offers. He’d also been inducted into some group called ‘the little bro security chasers”.
Casey groaned. “oh, no! I know that group. My little syster Brittany says they challenge authority and exist on video games. She once felt harassed when she wandered into one of their meetings. I’ll find out if this is a cult or a safe club. Stay aware, Marilyn.”
Suddenly, Marilyn became a specimen in a research project, soon to be probed for all the consequences of her past actions.
Section 5: ‘Complex Consequences’ — Chapter 5: ‘A Social Media Makeover’
A week later, right on schedule, the trio re-convened to discuss Marilyn’s social media audit. She seemed hesitant, as they were all three now aware of personal boundaries crossed and questioned. Casey and Sally laughed about what they called ‘Marilyn’s Makeover’. This colloquialism wasn’t as humorous to their younger friend.
Casey summarized their first recommendation. Following analysis in Dragnet Nation, Marilyn should do a threat assessment. If she stayed in the shallows of computing history, she would be relatively safe from personal attacks. At the other extreme, Gamer Gate 2014 showed how a venture into anti-feminist territory could get her displaced from home or forced to seek restraining orders.
Bottom line: paranoid listing of adversaries and threats should be high priority. Marilyn should use Whisperer life narratives to extract people and events that might threaten her writing career. It was time to gradually dissolve her extensive Facebook ‘friend’ network. She should carefully monitor antiquated Google/Yahoo/Hotmail correspondence messages and adopt the CumuLinker “non-tracking” email systems. Her contacts list should be scrubbed and considered ‘Confidential’. All her data held by CumuLinker should be designated -CumuLinker private. All shopping data would be fully public, she should remember. More positively, she could rebuild her image through carefully stated Twitter messages that linked her with other journalists she admired.
Sally broke the bad news to her niece gently. “Marilyn, you have three serious public record problems. First, an innocuous 1980s community newspaper street photo; second, news reports on your husband’s employment and security issues; third, your statements on the autism-vaccine issue.”
As a teenager in the late 1980s, Marilyn had been photographed at a bake sale in New York City. A group collected funds for what she believed was an environmental cause. The bake sale table was also selling girl Scout cookies. That environmental group later turned out to be a loose affiliate of another collective that included a few suspects from bombings of the 1960s era. That photo clearly showed her holding out the Mint Chocolate cookie box to a buyer, smiling like the kid she was.
Casey took over. ” We know this cookie terrorism scene is far from your thoughts for decades. I ran mathematical algorithms on then and now faces. That picture matched your features today precisely enough that someday some person might link you to the bombing group. Your face is tagged in photos all over Facebook. Public appearances will inject your picture into the gigantic government intelligence face matching system.”
Casey scrolled a line of photographs arranged by age from the cookie table to last week’s group of proud parents at Bob’s graduation. She stated, “Did you know that government and commercial surveillance systems hold more data, and data more easily retrievable, than most people can realistically recall about themselves? This gallery if a sample of Marilyn Maxxson Online. Occasionally go over this data to protect yourself when your memory falters.”
The justice system presented another problem. Her husband’s run-in with laboratory officials had been in the news for months. It was often on television, with Congressional hearings. International exchange visits and his 2nd generation eastern European ethnicity painted him as a friend of spies. Marilyn’s picture, name, and past technical profession left her as possible accomplice by repeatedly referring to “Mrs. Marilyn Maxxson, the Girl Scout troop leader, one-time supercomputer coder, and prolific Usenet and Facebook raconteur”.
The biggest story that would not go away was Yuri’s law suit regarding illegal job termination.
Sally’s voice choked. ” I confess. Evidence for this awful scenario is painfully close to home for me. I sued an employer after my menopausal mis-step into a technology transfer job. I suspected mis-handling of funds and learned — the hard way — that employee policies are meaningless. Government employers had immunities I’d never imagined. Eventually federal courts slapped me down on a technicality after exposing enough claims and counter-claims to confuse any reader of the case.”
She paused, nearly crying. “The lawsuit would not die in my public legacy. Even now, searching for my name always brings the rejected appeals case information high on Google search results. Public records and reputation repair company portals collude with search engines to share revenues from my stupid job mis-step. Those damned companies cut off numerous possibilities for interesting jobs during what might have been the peak earning period of my life before my disability kicked in. There’s no reason to hide court records, but why make them such prominent unsolicited fact about a person? No amount of good deeds or awards or publication recognition will over-ride that implication that you’re a litigious bitch.”
Sally swiveled her chair around in order to regain her composure.
Marilyn’ spirits drooped. “Come on, you mean, there is nothing, nada, I can control about that part of my reputation? Give me some hope, you sadists!”.
Casey tried to clarify. ” There is nothing I, nor you, can do if Google search algorithm designers make law suits highly visible to any casual searcher. That’s just too bad for unfortunate citizens believing they were exercising their employment guarantees. This is simply the dark side of searching.”
Sally took a break to walk around and fetch another glass of what looked like iced tea with a fruit swizzle. She giggled, “Ha, that’s a new option for my personal search engine hack. My power has returned.”
Now onto the vaccine-autism link controversy. Circa 2003, a younger and more emotional Marilyn had pulled out all her research capabilities to find the best possible treatment for Bob’s autism diagnosis. A famous 1998 UK article suggested strong correlation with vaccination at age 2. There was enough doubt either way you read the data, she felt. Her analysis and public appeal for further research had been crafted so that its presence on a now decaying Internet forum retained links well into the current era.
Eventually retractions of claims in the published paper and a deluge of support for vaccines swayed Marilyn’s opinion the other way. Her balanced counter-story to her earlier publication garnered even more references in the now richly linked controversy. Searching for her unique name might find her in a mass of web links too complex for readers to untangle. She might look confused or taking both sides. Too many links, and links from dubious sources, could be harmful to her reputation for journalistic objectivity. Of course, Bob was also subject to diagnosis or mis-diagnosis or prejudice.
Sally piped in, “You’re already on the trail of social media misbehavior. You would be a good podcast interviewee on these subjects.”
These warnings left Marilyn panting with anxiety. “Sally and Casey, you’ve shown me how a stranger might worry about this unknown Marilyn Maxxson’s reputation. My objections are futile. I am just a kid subject to face recognition progress, not an FBI target. My husband’s case entangled my name into Google’s ‘algorithmic legal indifference’. Come on, I wrote a really good article that gained a following for its arguments that could be cited by either side for a period of time. I’m innocent!”
Casey reminded her, “Learn to think impersonally. Realize that algorithms don’t single you out, but rather mindlessly, if recklessly, process you as living data. We created these ‘weapons of math destruction’ to sustain our ‘surveillance capitalism’ business model, or TIRex some call it. Now you must turn your part of our collective bad judgement into documented experience to enable better judgement in the future. Good luck, with that, kiddo!”
Casey and Sally summarized their advice: “Get mentally prepared. For each of these predicaments, you could have a carefully crafted brief response that could get you through questioning. Anything online can be used against you. You must understand the algorithmic evidence to talk your way around any doubt or accusation.
Casey explained, “Marilyn, you’re lucky that CumuLinker organizes your life data for you on your Whisperer. Unpleasant as it may be, you can re-live the cringe-making phases of your life until you comfortably understand your actions and their consequences. I’ve been using my timelines to work out a pattern of behavior that caused me needless trouble over my lifetime. “
Casey placed her hands across her chest onto her shoulders. “It’s too late to apologize to many people in my life narratives. Instead I’ve chosen a few relationships to revive and cherish. Let me tell you, it’s mentally and emotionally hard, but worth the effort.”
Sally added, “Don’t forget that CumuLinker will often be a third party introducing you to your clients and informants and interviewers. You control some filters on your life, like public data to keep private. There are centers for data studies working on policies for the CumuLinker age, as we adjust to surveillance capitalism. You can also build a persona of the person you want to be, then live that very life.”
Casey sighed, “Please remember that I’m a threat caster by nature and training. I may have biased our recommendations by looking at negative consequences. Sally also has some biases from living in her environment that failed at universal design. As your writing career takes off, your energy and reputation will overcome these past problems. But never let optimism overcome awareness of risks.
Enjoying her spiked fruit punch drink, Sally brought up some philosophical research. She and matt had been discussing the forces of digital remembering displayed in those timelines of ‘Life Replayed’ and ‘Teen Mazes’. All netizens should have the right to determine when, where, and how their life stories are told. If one decides an event, relationship, or concern has ben resolved, then everyone should “let bygones be gone”.
They liked the idea of disciplined expiration. This was like mentally time limiting all browser permissions and file saves. Elders appreciate the value of never revisiting decisions or situations requiring them to re-establish a mental context. As Casey’s reunion experience with that ‘Life Replayed’ game showed, CumuLinker risked ‘algorithmic cruelty’ if its designers messed with personal data, like “who are we to know the most momentous moment of your year?”.
Marilyn whimpered, “Enough! And, thank you! Casey, what about that little bro group that inducted Bob? Should I be worried?”
Casey laughed, “You need to have one more ‘facts of life’ chat with your son. The Little Bro movement teaches positive lessons about security technical issues. But they also promote distrust of government and national security agencies. You should provide both arguments about government surveillance then let him find his own way. Don’t miss the chance to give him the ‘me too’ warning about harassing young women, or older ones for that matter. And ask him to be responsible for his friends’ actions, also.”
She continued, “The CumuLinker takeover of our data and distribution of Whisperer reparations are slowly taking effect. I recently went to a Social Media Meetup where I participated in well-informed and civil discussions on climate change. Make sure Bob understands the Trickster shadow that will envelope his life until… maybe never if the Nuclear Shadow erupts. You’ve already taught him about wildfires and he’s taken that knowledge into his spectacular simulator. You can use Little Bro as another preparation for life in the world changed by the Trickster’s visitation.”
Marilyn’s makeover was in progress.
Copyright 2022 Susan L. Gerhart, “A Chip On Her Shoulder”