Open Thinkering


Month: April 2023

Weeknote 17/2023

Brightly coloured training shoes

Our daughter was away this week for her first-ever residential trip with school. The previous ones she should have gone on were cancelled due to the pandemic. She seems to have had a great time at Loch Eil, abseiling off part of Ben Nevis, canoeing to a place to wild camp, and doing kinds of other things including zip wires, crate stacking, etc.

She wasn’t back in time for her football team leaving for a tournament in Skegness on Friday. We assumed she’d be too tired to play any part in it, but it turns out we were wrong. So tomorrow we’re heading down for the day, leaving our son behind to revise. He’s been playing football and basketball today.

I’ve been back to work this week after walking half of The Pennine Way during my three weeks off work. So my focus there has been getting back up-to-speed with client projects, including some for — as well as booking a WAO trip to MozFest House in Amsterday in June.

But Hannah and I have had another focus this week, which is preparing our house for a valuation and viewing. We moved into our current house nine years ago, initially renting it after our move to Gozo fell through. After deciding to buy it, and then converting the loft, we’ve had it on the market a couple of times since then. The most recent was a couple of years ago, just before the second pandemic lockdown.

Our house isn’t actually on the market yet, as we were planning to wait until after our eldest has finished his GCSEs. However, an opportunity came up to get it ready for a viewing for someone moving back to the area. Even if they decide against it, we’ve got it back to a decent level ready for putting it on the market in a couple of months’ time.

So, along with slowly returning to the gym and getting back to my exercise regime, it’s felt like quite the week! This is a long weekend with the Early May Bank Holiday, which is International Workers Day and the day when we celebrate seven years of our co-op being in existence. I’m looking forward to getting back to running next week, as well as having a bit more of a normal rhythm. Of course I won’t be celebrating the coronation next weekend, for many reasons, including this one.

Update: it was a long, 17-hour day, but our daughter’s team won the tournament!

Photo of some Nike Air Max training shoes I bought in the sale a few months ago, and decided to wear to the gym this morning for the first time!

Paying for participation

Hands on a tree trunk

I participated in a community call yesterday where someone suggested that we explore either internships or stipends to ensure more diverse attendance and representation. Some other people were concerned about this, for several reasons.

First, the kind of work involved (open source, open standards, open recognition) has a history of volunteers turning up to these kinds of calls. There’s intrinsic motivation involved, and it can actually be of reputational benefit to turn up to them.

Second, there was some unease about paying people for participation, as opposed for achieving an outcome. Those who were uneasy said that they would be happier if the money involved was tied to people reaching a goal.

Third, there was a bit of confusion as to whether only new people would be eligible for the money, and how much it would be, and whether it would be grant-funded.

In short, it was a bit of a confusing situation. This post is my way of thinking through how paying people for participation, while feeling a bit ‘odd’, is actually anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and an extremely progressive, socially just thing to do.

In order to better understand the concerns raised during the community call and why paying people for participation can be viewed as anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and progressive, let’s break down the situation further.

  1. Intrinsic motivation and reputational benefit — while it’s true that many people in the open source, open standards, and open recognition communities are intrinsically motivated to participate and contribute, this argument ignores the fact that not everyone has the same resources or access to opportunities. People from underrepresented backgrounds may not have the time, financial resources, or networks to engage in these activities on a volunteer basis. Providing financial support through internships or stipends ensures that a more diverse range of people can participate, which benefits the community as a whole.
  2. Paying for participation vs. achieving an outcome — the concern that paying people for participation rather than outcomes might lead to lower-quality contributions is understandable. However, it is important to recognise that the primary goal of providing financial support in this context is to promote diversity and inclusion. By offering internships or stipends, we can enable individuals from underrepresented backgrounds to participate in the community without the pressure of meeting specific deliverables or outcomes. This approach not only fosters a more inclusive environment but also acknowledges that the value of diverse perspectives and experiences goes beyond measurable outcomes. Encouraging participation and ensuring that all voices are heard should be considered as an essential contribution in itself.
  3. Eligibility, amount, and funding — the confusion surrounding eligibility criteria, the amount of financial support, and funding sources can be resolved through transparent communication and clearly defined guidelines. Instead of viewing eligibility criteria as a potential barrier, we should frame it in a way that empowers and encourages individuals from diverse backgrounds to participate. By emphasizing the goal of promoting diversity and inclusion, we can create a welcoming atmosphere that motivates underrepresented individuals to engage with the community. Establishing clear guidelines for the amount of financial support and funding sources will further ensure that the initiative is effective in achieving its intended objectives.

I’m happy that it’s become more acceptable to describe oneself as anti-capitalist. Thankfully, these days people are less likely to think that you want to go back to a system of bartering 🙄 In a capitalist society, resources and opportunities tend to be concentrated among those who already have them. So, by providing financial support to underrepresented individuals, we challenge the existing power dynamics and create a more inclusive environment valuing diverse perspectives and experiences.

The elephant in the room here, though, is systemic racism. This often manifests itself in the form of unequal access to resources and opportunities. That means by proactively investing in individuals from under-represented and under-privileged backgrounds, we address these systemic barriers and work towards a more equitable community.

Supporting diversity and inclusion is not only morally right but also actually essential for innovation and progress. A diverse group of contributors can bring fresh ideas, experiences, and perspectives that can help the community grow and evolve in new and exciting directions. As straight, middle-aged, white guy it’s taken me too long to realise this, if I’m painfully honest.

So, by way of conclusion to thoughts that were provoked yesterday, although paying people for participation may seem unconventional, it can be an effective way to promote diversity and inclusion. The exact details of how we do that are for either the next post, or the next community call…

Image by Shane Rounce

Using Snapchat’s ‘My AI’ feature for revision

Screenshot of My AI

Yesterday, I posted on Mastodon that I’ve been helping my son with his GCSE revision using ChatGPT 4. Today, after initially only being available to paying subscribers, he and his friends woke up to Snapchat’s ‘My AI’ feature being available to all users.

Snapchat’s offering is powered by ChatGPT, so notwithstanding issues raised by The Center for Humane Technology in The AI Dilemma, I wanted to share ways in which this could be a positive move for teenagers.

Here’s examples of how you can prompt ChatGPT (and therefore My AI) to be a useful exam revision tutor:

Initial ChatGPT prompt
Example of ChatGPT tutor

I know this is all very new, but giving the power of all this, schools need to be teaching some AI literacy. This includes, of course, the dangers of giving away personal data to tech companies, but also prompt crafting. For ideas on the latter, I’d recommend subscribing to Tom Barrett’s new weekly newsletter of the same name.

Update: I’ve been helping him with his Biology revision this evening, and used this prompt. He then took the 10 questions (which I printed out), answered them using pen and paper, as he would in an exam, and I typed the answers in for feedback from ChatGPT.

I want you to ask me questions about AQA GCSE Biology, combined trilogy. Come up with 10 at a time and tell me how many marks each question is worth (between 1 and 6). The questions should be on Ecology and the number of marks should increase in value between the first and last questions. Give me all of the questions, then I will respond to them one by one. You will then tell me what my mark would be, give me feedback on how I can improve (using emoji!), and then ask me for the response to my next question.