Blog: November 2019

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Meta, control, and agency

Jon Ericson, then a community manager at Stack Overflow who was trying to get company leaders to repair their relationship with the community, wrote a blog post about the difference between control and agency and how Meta, the "town hall" for the community, factored in. (The company had decided that users on Meta should be ignored because they complained about stuff and, really, they're only something like 0.015% of the community so we can ignore them.)

I left the following comment:

Part of the challenge is that not only do users need some agency, but we need to believe we have some agency. This is a core part of what your employer violated in September; last year they made an explicit promise to moderators (of agency and several other things), and then they grossly violated that in a profoundly hurtful way that they've refused to mitigate at all. Against that backdrop, changes that appear to shut down feedback channels face an uphill battle.

Meta doesn't scale, I know. I'm not active on SO meta where I hear things have broken down. On my smaller sites, meta still works fine -- not only that, but it helps us actively build community! Main meta is somewhere in between -- not as big as SO meta, bigger than any other site's meta. I've seen main meta be very productive and collaborative, and I've seen it be...not. I don't think that's just scale; it's also tied to trust (which is related to and perhaps derived from agency).

It's important, therefore, to not just say "meta works" or "meta doesn't work" but to drill into what characteristics make it work or not work. You indicated that scale is an issue. Here are some others:

  • Visibility. People feel they have agency when they can see that their concerns have been raised (or that they've been able to raise them). Meta is default-public; blog comments (on the Stack Overflow blog) are default-private; SurveyMonkey results are private. Users don't know what's going into that black box.

  • Responsiveness. Yeah, I get that some employees are afraid of meta. The CMs never seemed to be and you're supposed to be a bridge to and from the community, so it feels like the company could still engage with users on meta if the higher-ups wanted to. People don't expect to control things but do expect to be heard and be able to get answers. The company has been failing badly here, and a move to either shut down or officially ignore meta would make that worse. Y'all could mitigate it by reporting and responding to that black-box survey feedback you're getting, but it'll probably be too little too late too vague. Your users have poured heart and soul into your sites for (sometimes) 11 years; it's very alienating to be shut out without any acknowledgement of the value we've brought.

  • Gratitude. Sure there are some cranks on meta, but the vast majority of users who are requesting features, raising discussion points, and asking questions are doing so because we're trying to make our shared space even better. We care. We care enough to spend hours developing and presenting ideas, even building prototypes or mockups, to help other users and thus the network. Are some of those offerings crap? Sure. But the company shouldn't be so quick to dismiss these offerings anyway. The person who wrote that crappy memory-hogging userscript today could build a really thoughtful spec to solve a pain point tomorrow -- if you don't send the "don't bother, kiddo" signal. There has been too little acknowledgement of and thanks for the many contributions the meta community has made over the years. Instead we're branded as malcontents or worse and dismissed as dangerous for employees' wellbeing.

I know that you, Jon, know all this already. But sometimes even when I know something, hearing somebody else say it helps me see it in a new way that then helps me act on it. You know all this, but perhaps, maybe, my commenting on it anyway helps you do something with it to get through to the people who don't know it and seem uninterested in listening to mere users.

A tactical plea to my supporters on Stack Exchange

Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange keeps making mistakes on top of mistakes. Most recently, they announced that they are removing links to the GoFundMe campaign about the defamation. In broad strokes this is not surprising; it's their network and they're not interested in hosting links to a page gathering funds with which to sue them. Some of their specific actions are still highly questionable, particularly editing people's user profiles (in which people have always been free to advertise whatever they like, aside from things like gross hate sites and child porn).

This is such a misstep (I gained $3k in about a day after this) that one naturally wonders if sympathetic employees under orders are choosing how to carry them out. Of course one wonders this, but saying it out loud on the site could get those people in trouble. Similarly, asking questions about other cases employees didn't bring up, like user names (they didn't say anything about user names), could just lead them to clamp down on things they wouldn't have otherwise touched. Don't make them answer questions we don't want them to answer in predictable ways, please!

Friends, please be careful. Don't give the people calling the shots either additional ideas or ammunition against people who are trying to bring some sanity to the mess the company rulers have created.

Finally, let me say again how overwhelmed I am by all the support I'm getting. Thank you all so much! Almost 300 people have donated funds, and hundreds of people across the network have changed their user names, gravatars, or profile descriptions to protest the company's actions. And I was delighted to see community ads on several sites, before clamp-down. Knowing that so much of the community is behind me gives me strength to press forward. I can't express my gratitude enough.

Fall CSA, week 6 (and final)

  • Turk's turban squash (I'm just copying what the manifest called it...)
  • 5 Rome apples
  • 6 potatoes
  • 6 rainbow carrots
  • 2 heads garlic
  • large yellow onion
  • tomatillo salsa
  • whole spelt flour

Anticipated but not present: watermelon radish. (Drat! Those are nice, and I've never seen them at the grocery store.)

They suggest that Rome apples are best for cooking. I've been doing baked apples a lot; maybe I'll make a cobbler with these ones.

Does anybody have suggestions for breads using spelt? I am particularly interested in recipes that work in a bread machine and ones for quick breads (which I would make in the oven). The CSA linked to a recipe for a blueberry/lemon quick bread, which sounds interesting except that it calls for several ingredients I would not otherwise buy. If I were to try that one, what do flaxseed meal and coconut sugar contribute to the result (chemically, flavor, baking properties, etc) and what can I safely substitute for them?

This was the last week of the fall share. I was looking forward to the winter share; that's when I started last year and we got a lot of great produce, including several things that were new to me. I learned that radishes come in more than two varieties (red and daikon)! And the baby turnips were great, and I cooked with rutabagas for the first time! Alas, they cancelled the winter share this year for a combination of supply issues and low subscription volume. I've heard good things about Imperfect Produce but they don't serve my city; a (remote) coworker recently mentioned Misfits, which apparently does, so I might give that a try. But for the locals, I'm also interested in hearing where I might shop for local produce, particularly things that Giant Eagle doesn't carry. Connect me with those radishes, parsnips, and baby turnips, please!

Read more…

Quote of the day, Stack Overflow edition

The thing about a train wreck is that it usually ends. It's like the train wrecked and then they brought in a big claw to pick it up and drop it over and over. The train was full of horses and no one knows if they're alive or dead, so they just keep kicking them. - Scott Hannen, 2019-11-10

Yup, that's about right. Stack Overflow Inc. has blown a simple misunderstanding (that's the most charitable interpretation I have) into full-blown personal attacks and libel in violation of their own code of conduct, causing a bunch of power users to leave, then doubled down on the attacks instead of retracting and apologizing, and throughout has refused to so much as discuss a resolution, so now we're at the lawyer stage.

Meanwhile, they've been refusing to answer questions about the probably-illegal license change they made two months ago, and somebody else finally decided to seek legal counsel about that. Would that have happened now without the other profound failures, or would there have been more discussion and collaboration first? Hard to know. And somebody else brought up New York labor law, which Stack Overflow might or might not be in violation of; I wonder when that will escalate.

It would have been hard for Stack Overflow to mess this up more badly if they'd tried. No employees have (publicly) left yet, but given how top management is treating the community team, I won't be surprised if that happens.

Brief torah thought (Lech L'cha)

This shabbat we had our approximately-annual shabbaton, or Shabbat retreat. Because everybody's there for the duration -- nobody has to run home for lunch guests or the like -- we can be more relaxed and have time for conversation. I like that aspect a lot.

When my rabbi read the fourth aliyah (Genesis chapter 14) in the morning service, he commented that the passage seems tangential and wondered what it's there to teach us. At lunch afterwards, I told him I could think of four reasons for that chapter to be there:

  • redemption of captives (Avram had to rescue Lot after the war)
  • we can't always isolate ourselves and sometimes get drawn into others' conflicts
  • tithing
  • Avram superseding Malki-Tzedek, a priest of God according to the text

My rabbi asked if I got that from Mi Yodeya. :-) I know I've asked a question about Malki-Tzedek, but the rest of this was my own reasoning.

He then added a fifth: consequences of bad choices. Lot could have gone anywhere when he split from Avram, and he chose S'dom.

Fall CSA, week 5

  • 7 poblano (?) peppers
  • rhubarb preserves
  • butternut squash
  • head green cabbage
  • delicata squash
  • 5 stayman winesap apples
  • 5 red potatoes
  • 7 rainbow carrots (most medium-large)
  • 1 red onion

The email said we'd be getting poblano peppers, which I'm used to being less long and skinny. These smell like they could be poblanos. Is this just a variant form (it's not like I've seen tons of these, after all)? If not, what are they?

Dani would like cabbage soup. The last time I went to the elves Google for a recipe, he thought it was ok but wasn't what he is used to as cabbage soup. He couldn't really articulate it, though. If there is such a thing as a canonical eastern-European-Jewish cabbage soup, please enlighten me.

The preserves were listed as "a surprise valued-added item". I wondered if this were a way for them to solve a "misc" problem (having assorted stuff but not enough of any one thing to list it). Perhaps it was, but everybody at my pickup location got the same preserves. These ones are good on toast.

Read more…

Fall CSA, weeks 3 and 4

Things have been hectic, so here's a belated post covering two weeks.

Week 3:

  • 5 carrots (1 white)
  • 5 yellow onions
  • 5 empire apples
  • butternut squash
  • head napa cabbage
  • small acorn (?) squash
  • bunch arugula
  • 11 small red potatoes
  • jar tomatillo salsa (last-minute substitution for maple syrup)

Week 4:

  • large acorn squash
  • head purple cabbage
  • bunch green kale
  • 3 red peppers (I don't know if the darker one is a different variety or if that's just normal color variation)
  • 5 yellow onions
  • 2 heads garlic
  • delicata squash
  • 5 roma apples
  • green tomato relish

The salsa and relish both appear to have a fair bit of liquid content. Suggestions on what they're best used for?

The napa cabbage mostly went into stir-fries; I'm not sure what I'll use the purple cabbage for. (That's a lot of coleslaw, but I don't know if I really want to make sauerkraut.) The squashes have been accumulating in my squash cellar (ok, bin on the basement landing, where it's cool and dark but accessible), from which I fairly regularly pull one to bake stuffed with apples. Much of this is staples, and well-timed; I was almost out of both onions and garlic.

Unfortunately the winter share got cancelled this year. I haven't yet looked for local alternatives. The winter share last year was my introduction to a CSA, and I particularly liked a lot of the winter produce, some of which I'd never seen before (i.e. is not in the local grocery store). I'm thinking particularly of the different types of radishes, and also baby turnips.

Read more…

Podcast about Stack Overflow situation

About a week and a half ago I was contacted by someone who produces a series of tech-oriented videos. After I checked out the body of work ('cause you can't be too careful about such things), I agreed to chat with Tyler's Tech, and the result was this podcast:

Tyler's Tech Podcast: Monica Cellio on the Fallout at Stack Exchange

I was kind of nervous going into this (an extension of my general nervousness about public speaking), but I think it came out pretty well despite more "um"s and "uh"s than would be ideal. Tyler was great to work with.

Read more…