Western accent?

There’s a fantastic discussion of red state politics on the wellRED podcast interview of Sarah Smarsh by the three hosts of the show. At the 46:00 point in the podcast, the group discusses how they all deliberately chose not to lose their respective accents. Smarsh says as part of journalism school, she needed to learn how to make her voice more “neutral” (a.k.a. “General American” as it’s referred to on Wikipedia). For the three guys (Trae Crowder, Drew Morgan and Corey Ryan Forrester), I can understand the handwringing. Listening to them, even though I find myself agreeing with much of what they say, I have to be mindful of potential bias when I hear their accents.

With Smarsh, it’s different. She grew up in Kansas, which is culturally/linguistically not much different from where I grew up (all over the U.S. west), where my mom grew up (midway between Omaha and Kansas City), and where much of my extended family still is (Kansas City area). As my mom would point out, modern newscasters (of the day) treated the Nebraska accent as a “neutral” accent — and many TV celebrities like Johnny Carson and David Letterman benefited from their upbringing in neutral accent territory.

It may be that my western upbringing is the reason why I don’t detect an appreciable accent, but others would. The only regional aspects of my younger accent that I’m aware of dropping is referring to carbonated beverage as “pop” (I say “soda” now) and treating “pen” and “pin” as homophones (not anymore). Given how minor the changes to my speech have been since moving to the west coast (living in either Seattle or San Francisco since 1993), I haven’t considered my accent to have changed much since I was young.

In the past few years, I’ve gotten more comfortable speaking warmly of my humble-ish upbringing. Further more, I’ve happily adopted “y’all” in spite of not growing up using the phrase. Some of my fondest memories of my dad were of his cowboy-culture way of talking, which wasn’t that different than the cattle cop highlighted on Planet Money a few years ago. Whenever something would splash all over the place, Dad frequently said it “splattered like a cow pissing on a rock”. He implored me to be more mindful by telling me to “get your head out of your ass”. He frequently claimed that many politicians were “crookeder than a dog’s hind leg”. I’ve carried some of his cowboy-isms forward, but I don’t have the same cowboy cred that he did. Plus, I’m prouder of the fact that I was occasionally able to beat Mom at Scrabble in her prime, and pretty sure that anyone reading this would have had about as tough of a time doing it as I did, no matter how much of a smartypants you think you are.

Listening to Smarsh talk about the assumptions that people seemed to make about her that she ascribed to her accent, it makes me wonder: am I deaf to her accent because of my similar upbringing? Do I have a “western” or “midwestern” accent that might have caused the kinds of discrimination they discuss in this show? Have I just been luckier than Smarsh, or am I just blind to being treated like I just fell off the turnip truck?

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2017 update

I’ve neglected this blog for a really long time, but it’s not like I haven’t been writing publicly.  A few links to my post 2010 writing:

I’m thinking of importing a few choice bits that I’ve written elsewhere, and put them in the history of this blog.  One of these days, I may even update <http://robla.net>

New gig: Wikimedia Foundation

As of last week, I’m officially an employee of the Wikimedia Foundation. Here’s the the official announcement of WMF hiring me. I’ve been working there as a contractor for the past couple of months, and it’s been a great experience so far. I’m working with a lot of really smart people that I stand to learn a great deal from. I’m pretty used to being the “open source guy” at the companies I’ve worked at in the past, so it’s going to be an interesting twist to work somewhere where publishing the source code (and most everything else, for that matter) is just a given.

On Diaspora

There’s been a lot of hubbub about Facebook’s ongoing tone-deafness regarding privacy. As a result, there has also been a lot of hubbub about the Diaspora project, with both wildly optimistic projections of their success, as well as more skeptical assessments.

I’m skeptical about Diaspora specifically, because it reminds me a lot of an effort to take RealNetworks down a peg more than a decade ago. In 1999, the Free Expression Project was started to “help people distribute their content to other people without being beholden to any corporation”. A laudable goal, and one that earned them a fawning writeup on CNet News, which claimed that Real was under siege by these folks. The project never seemed to make it much further than a website with a few diagrams, and nothing that came even close to challenging the streaming media hegemony we enjoyed at the time. (I was at Real from 1996-2005)

However, that’s not really the whole story. What the fawning press coverage indicated was that there were a lot of people who wanted Real to be taken down a peg or two. I imagine that the CNet reporter was as skeptical as anyone about the ability of the Free Expression Project to deliver, but he wrote the story anyway because he knew that people would eat it up. He knew that story would generate traffic because people would see his headline, think “Thank GOD!”, and click through to read the story. He was probably right.

It ultimately wasn’t a ragtag band of open source developers that toppled Real’s dominant position, but rather a one-two punch from Microsoft then Macromedia/Adobe. Still, their job was made a lot easier by the prevailing mood. When we tried to rally the open source community a few years later, despite our success in landing deals with hardware vendors (which it appears they are still successful with), we didn’t get a lot of organic contribution. By then, MPlayer, GStreamer, Xine, VLC and other efforts were already underway, and contributors to those projects had little incentive to join forces with us at that point. The developers on those projects thought: “we can do this better, and why would we want to help Real anyway?”

Facebook has a pretty solid network lock-in going for them, so its not as though we’re about to witness a sudden collapse of their market position. However, they’ve got a serious problem with their brand, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Zuckerberg is in complete denial about it, preferring to think about the privacy controversy as a storm that will blow over soon enough. It’d be easy for the Facebook crew to believe that no one is going to be able to pull together all of the elements needed for head-to-head competition. I’m betting that’s not how it plays out. My guess is that someone like Twitter or Google figures out how to add just enough functionality that many more people feel comfortable giving up on Facebook. Moreover, if I were going into competition with Facebook, I think I’d try to turn their strength into a weakness. For example, for many younger people, a network not overrun with parents, grandparents and extended relatives might just be a selling point.

I’m not deleting my Facebook account anytime soon, but I know I don’t need everything Facebook currently offers.

Pronouncing Eyjafjallajökull

I got curious if there was a pronunciation on Wikipedia of “Eyjafjallajökull”, which of course there was. In the really helpful IPA alphabet, which is: “ˈɛɪjaˌfjatlaˌjœːkʏtl̥”. I got about halfway through deciphering this when I gave up.

Fortunately, there’s a recording of a native speaker. Did you catch that? Me neither. Finally, looking on the talk page, there is a great discussion. One useful resource in that section is this clip from ABC News.

So, here’s what I was able to ascertain is the best way to describe it in text. You say: “AY-ya-fyot-lah-yoe-kdl” with a particular emphasis on the “AY-ya” part to distinguish it from all of the other silly fyot-lah-yoe-kdls (mountain glaciers) that they have a million of in Iceland.

According to the New York Times blog, if you’re a native English speaker, your best chance of saying this is to mumble “Hey ya forgot the yogurt”. They’ve also got perhaps better text versions of how to say it.

Doing the conferency talky thing

That's me giving a lecture to my daughter about the importance of proper modularization in large scale development

I didn’t do much in the way of public speaking last year, but I’m starting to make up for it this year. Here’s a few things I’ve got coming up:

Thoughts on dual licensing and contrib agreements

Two-headed Camel

Creative Commons License photo by kwc

There’s been a lot of chatter lately about dual licensing in open source and its much-maligned companion the contributor license agreement. Since my last two community management gigs involved dual licensing and CLAs, I have a few thoughts on the subject.

These tools certainly make it harder to build a community. As Brian Aker pointed out in Drizzle, Licensing, Having Honest Conversations with your Community:

How do you have an honest conversation with someone where you say “yes, I will need the work you did for free, to be assigned over to me, so that I can make money on it”?

It’s not hard to understand that argument. As anyone who has ever tried to build a community will tell you, contributors don’t grow on trees. It’s a lot of hard work getting a community excited and motivated to work on your project. Having a single-minded focus on the thought process of your contributor community is probably the only way to build a community of any size or consequence.
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