Saturday April 9th
BlackComputeHER, a Tiring week, and Consumption
This week was draining for me
- It was one of those administrative weeks that sucks up your time because as we all know, in Academia, one does not just do the task. Often, doing a task is not simple, and involves circling back multiple times with people. I had less “stuff” to do, so I was able to let certain things percolate and do less, which was partially my doing by blocking certain tasks and not letting certain people into my space, so I can have the time to think about some things I am working on.
Timeline of Trajectories
- One of the interesting things we spoke about this week in a seminar I attend every two weeks is the influence of tech, and I had brought up the point that there was a time (circa late 90s, early 2000s) where journalists wrote scathing commentary on technical utopianism. I still enjoy reading some of those articles today, when I discover them. Somewhere along the way, there began more propagandistic reporting on some of these topics, in a way that makes some of us roll our eyes. Understanding some of the structure of these bad business models because of a few friends who work in that world (something something investment banking and tech mogul ownership), I can understand why this happens, but it’s interesting how it has affected the culture and influence of tech. On some days, I really long for those days where they had the guts to just call a “new innovation” for what it is; a dystopian cheese grater that would only fit the decor of someone’s workplace if used as a doorstop or as a teething toy or scratch post for a pet.
- I remember one of my first encounters at a tech conference (yes, by one of those companies that always has those large, lavish conferences and will probably never invite me back if they read this) in SF; the journalist (immediately recognizable because his hair was unkempt, he looked like he hadn’t shaved and just threw on the last clean tshirt, and certainly didn’t come from planet Elysium like most people in the room; coincidentally, at that conference I think I ended up making friends with a nice lady who told me how terrible dating SF developers was for her (something about they expect you to be like a mom and not a g/friend), but knew people working the bar so we ended up getting an entire bottle of wine to ourselves, and later ended up dancing, after someone from that fancy tech company apologized profusely to me because “Orange Man bad had been voted in and I feel that I should apologize to you, a black person, on behalf of all white people” or something) sat in the front row and was furiously typing away and was there for all of half of the morning, surrounded by overly happy, overly caffeinated, swagged-up developers. Of course, the review he was making was one of lauding all the “new innovations”, but I remember sitting next to him and thinking “what is the point”, and that maybe the tech company themselves could have just hired their own internal shill to publish an article.
- I sometimes think similarly about AI Ethics and fairness; I’ve had several tech companies contact me because they’re starting up or hiring for these kind of internal organizations, and immediately I develop an upthrust feeling of nausea. In fact, it has helped me to realize more than ever why I would want to distance myself professionally from that whole space. Fairness and ethics are part of my community discussion; I (or most of us) don’t need a corporate job to validate our concerns as a community about harmful effects of technology and if the persons who are hired to represent these concerns are insulated from their community, then what is the point? And most of us will still be talking about it long after these corporate interests have moved on. I can see it moving in the direction of my previous chunk of thinking; moving from a space where persons can critically talk about the harms of technology, to a space where companies are lauded for their adherence to AI ethics (but who keeps this in check?). Thankfully, there are still some great persons helming their own institutions to do this kind of work; if you have been in tech for a bit, you can understand how difficult it is to push for an idea that is critical of “things we make for world peace, inc”. Someone even told me that I should “jump on board to this team now”, as though that is what would drive me; the prestige of being affiliated with the company and that team. The truth is that it turned me off even more. I don’t think that person understood that most researchers who have been around the block follow people and projects, not merely company name or prestige. I really like what I am doing now because it’s a nice, small space. I can focus and be left alone to do actual work and build up my network. I may not be a first pick as much for grants and talks because it’s less hyped, but I’m okay with it. I feel like I intellectually gave up a diet of chocolate and ice cream for fruits, and that’s okay.
- Have you ever been on a ride to see the cycle of a thing that succeeded? I have in my lifetime, many times over. I’ve been in the midst of communities that “blew up”, which were corrupted by corporate interests or attention, and while it is nice to see persons being acknowledged for their work, there is always a tradeoff. Something about the original community is always lost, no matter how much we plan for it not to every single time. It’s also funny how only a sliver of the original community, or sometimes not even the original creators, receive the credit they deserve. All of a sudden, the community also starts asking “who are these people”, and bemoans how easily those people become spokespersons for and receive credit for decades of work they did not do. I’ve seen the cycle many times in my life, in music, the Arts, my first tech hackerspace, etc. And I’ve seen childhood sweethearts and marriages become broken up because of the success of a thing. I am always poking around eclectic, new communities, and I’ve seen them become consumed and washed out.
- That reminded me of a post I saw on reddit this week, where someone commented “if we could get over back patting and overhyping ourselves”, and remarked that software eng probably has the highest concentration of persons who “think they are smart”. Perhaps that is the difference between traditional engineering and software engineering (some engineers don’t call software engineering real engineering lol). Many engineers who are not software engineers are deathly afraid of costly and life-threatening mistakes and liability, and this helps to keep their egos in check. Again, another note about the relative “safeness” of this career path. But I am not a software engineer, so I’ll move on, and I mostly go on that reddit to roll my eyes now at the seeming lack of realization of how much selection bias is on that channel and prestige worker-bee lobbying.
- I guess that every field has that kind of space. When IMDB forums used to be a thing (I think they were mostly removed because of trolling, but were pretty fun to read back in the day), you probably wouldn’t regularly see top director on there, but you would find many no-names arguing over how deep and intellectual they were, and how the director was the greatest of all time. I know someone who would deliberately troll some of the more popular megabuster ones, and boy did they stir up a lot of butthurt on there.
- I’ve felt like I’ve also seen this trajectory of sycophancy in events like I/O. I could be wrong, but in 2016, when I first attended, it was a place where I could see what people had built with various technologies using their hardware or software, and as the years progressed, it became entirely more corporate, and I enjoyed those aspects less. I don’t want to be sold things; I enjoyed seeing what people built with them. And as such, the audience for the events changed, too; I began seeing less persons willing to be openly critical of the tooling and systems, and more fanboys.
- I’m attending a conference this weekend, the BlackComputeHER conference! It’s been fantastic! I’ve met so many of my peers who are researchers in Academia or industry or have worked both, and students like myself, and it’s been a space where we can speak honestly about our experiences. It’s been quite refreshing for me, but I won’t comment on specifics out of respect for the space.
Negotiation and Community
- I went to a negotiation seminar this week from a friend who is finishing up her defense and was job-negotiating (I say this because they are the type of rockstar who really doesn’t have to “job-hunt”; jobs come to them). In fact, in Academia, this can very much be the case; jobs aren’t really advertised. A person you may have collaborated with or know might move to or start a lab or research institution, and invite you as someone they want to work with, who they think has value to add to the organization. As such, persons tend to even know before it is announced when someone moves, because of these networks. And I kid you not, the networks are some of the best aspects of this space. You think people don’t know, but they know. Oh boy, do they know. They call things out in private, which is a hilarious thing to experience. It gives me so much optimism about this space.
- Number Theory: Legendre Symbol, quadratic reciprocity
- Random Probabilistic Graphs: Bond Percolation, Dual Graphs, an evil puzzle to trick us from a naughty professor :) (coincidentally going to conference in a few weeks with this naughty professor) :)
- Algebra IV: Groebner Basis example, went over quiz question on Tensor Products, Elimination Theorem, Groebner basis examples in Sage
- Combinatorics Seminar: Skeletal Parking functions, cycling and Dyck paths
- Math Grad Seminar: I had surgery (I have stitches and felt wiped out!) and didn’t end up going :( But I rested in the afternoon and attended the conference and a seminar virtually
- Research with professor (working on some coding things and percolating of information / reading).
- Spoke with professor about classes for Fall 2022
- I Found a Buchberger paper I wanted to read from a tweet. I made a joke about unique Groebner bases and NFTs this week in class, and I am disturbed to know it might actually be a thing.
- I have a proposal to complete with a deadline coming up.
- I have some paperwork stuff to complete, and a review.
- I missed a morning lecture that is recorded so I can catch up on that and do the in-class assignment for that.
And that’s it
Written on April 9, 2022