I’m just getting caught up on the latest sexist insensitivity happening in the tech world, but as I was reading @nrrrdcore’s postt There is No Emoji for Martyrdom (update: context) I came across this year old story about Adria Richards being fired for publishing pictures of men who made rude and inappropriate comments, I’m struck by this quote that is attributed to her:

There is something about crushing a little kid’s dream that gets me really angry. Women in technology need consistent messaging from birth through retirement they are welcome, competent and valued in the industry.

Am I reading that wrong, or is she saying that she thinks women need to be told they’re competent when they are clearly not competent?

Does anyone go “from birth through retirement” being told they are welcome — regardless of their gender? Especially when they aren’t helping the people they’re working with to accomplish the goal they’re striving for? How do you say “We welcome you, even though it seems like you’re just getting in the way?”

I was mostly with Adria up until this quote in the story. I’m not going to say she should be able to publish people’s pictures on Twitter without any consequences, but she felt threatened, or at least angry, and she reacted. What she did is understandable in that context. From reading this tiny slice of the story, I can only assume that she felt making a statement was more valuable to her than continued employment. And I can respect that. It takes some real self-assurance to decide to tke that sort of stand.

But this quote of hers seems wrong to me. Maybe as I look at the story, I’ll see get some context that is missing right now — something that would frame the statement better. But the statement by itself seems insidious — that we should tell women they are valued in the field simply for being women?

Now, I’m very aware that there is a real gender imbalance in the tech community — especially in the free software world where I make my home. And I’m keen to make sure my three daughters will be able to succeed in whatever they decide to do — I’ll be especially interested in they really take an interest in my chosen profession.

But the reality is that the world crushes people’s dreams all the time. Anyone who goes from birth to retirement and gets the consistent message that they are welcome and competent is being fooled. I don’t want that for any of my children. If they need to be told to improve or that they just aren’t doing what is needed, then that’s fine. I’ve been told that more than once and I’ve managed to survive and I certainly want my children to be tough enough to survive and thrive as well.

IMG_20140201_153340_952I took my family to see The Desolation of Smaug along with some friends today.  I found it entertaining even though I did notice that Peter Jackson did seem to take even more liberties with this than he did with Lord of the Rings.

I sat beside my eight-year-old daughter, Lily, during most of the film, though.  Her mother started reading the book to her a couple of times, but Lily ended up finishing the whole book herself.  Several times during the film she pulled my head towards her and would whisper fiercely comments like “This is WRONG! They didn’t do that!

Once we got home after the movie, she decided to write a letter to Peter Jackson.  I’ve reproduced it below with some minor changes in punctuation and spelling, but the words are hers.  We’ll be mailing the letter Monday, but I’ve gotten her permission to share it here.

Dear Peter Jackson,

I thought your movie was horrible. I thought this because you didn’t include things like Gandolf introducing the dwarfs to Beorn. All of the things you added are unnecessary like how you put Legolas in when he was only in Lord of the Rings.

Second, I think that you shouldn’t have put the elf-lady Tarvial in for love interest and because “there aren’t enough females.” Another thing you put in is that you made Smaug a Wyvren instead of a giant worm-like creature with wings. Also, you made Bard younger. Another think you put in was the dwarfs covering Smaug with gold.

Multiple times you had Bilbo take off the ring or it fell when it really didn’t. Another thing that was wrong is that you didn’t make the eagles TALK!! Also Kili was never shot. He also didn’t have a love interest. Next, the dwarfs never split up. Lastly, the barrels didn’t free float — they were on a raft.

Sincerely,
A furious 3rd grader

P.S. The orcs never chased them on the river.

P.S.S. No one knew they were in the barrels.

Jesus and the Samaritan woman1A year or so ago, I came across the following quote: “other people’s real lives were more important than my mere beliefs.

I copied this to my twitter feed and someone responded with a comparison to adultery and a story Philip Yancy told in a book he wrote about a person who excused his adultery with God’s grace saying, in essence, “God will forgive me.”

The story about Yancy’s friend raises a good point. Sin can hurt other people.  The person who sent me the story said “sexual sins hurt so many people”.

Yes, it is obvious that some sins have the power to really hurt other people. But I’m not sure that adultery is the same as homosexuality in this sense at all.

Adultery is not a sexual sin so much as a breaking of vows, and as a result, destroying trust and confidence — causing real and lasting harm. I’m not sure how adultery can really compare to a mutually exclusive homosexual relationship.

Adultery as a sin is not even about sex. Someone could have a non-sexual relationship with a co-worker and cause jealousy in and harm to his life-long partner (for example, his wife) if it began to compete with his relationship with his partner.

Sex is definitely a powerful urge and we can easily fool ourselves into doing things that are painful to a lot of people if we are not careful with our sexual desire, but I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that God picks “sexual sin” out as a special category deserving of careful consideration.

Jesus summed up the Law and prophets with two commands: “Love the Lord … Love your neighbor”. I can see making an argument from the perspective of purity that homosexuality violates the first commandment, but I don’t think homosexuality itself violates the second. Adultery, on the other hand, definitely violates the “Love your neighbor” bit.

Still, the first commandment (and the purity argument) is ignored every day. A couple of examples are in order:

First, America has an obesity epidemic. (I’m a “victim” of this epidemic if you use BMI to measure it.)  Obesity can be evidence of gluttony — a misplaced desire for food, and one of the deadliest sins — definitely a violation of the purity argument.

And, while times are changing, we still treat people who take God’s name in vain — one of the ten commandments, arguably more important than anything the Bible says about homosexuality, and another argument from purity — with more humanity than homosexuals.

This brings me to this bit from St Issac:

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

Too often we confuse zeal for purity.  Even if we are pure as the driven snow, pride — another one of the deadliest sins — can creep up on us and we’ll become zealous in our pursuit of purity and start ignoring the admonition to “Judge not”.

Don’t mistake what I’m saying as an “excuse” for sin. I’m no more excusing my friend’s sins than I am my own lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, or pride.  But just as I pray for God’s mercy and hope in it, I hope for God’s mercy for others.

It is true that there are prophets in the Bible who pointed out other people’s sin.  And maybe you are like John the Baptist who zealously pointed out Herod’s sin, but I prefer to follow St. Issac here and emulate Christ’s gentler example.

Christ sat down with the woman at the well even though he knew she wasn’t pure and said “I do not condemn you” to the woman caught in the act of adultery. He said “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.

I suppose it is just a sign of my lukewarm ways that I’m more comfortable trying to be like Jesus here than John.

santaSome people in the Church avoid the label of “Christian”. Instead, the tell people they are a “follower of Christ”. I don’t like this sort of marketing and re-branding and definitely think it is the wrong place for us to concentrate our energy.

The “meme” photo here (“Put the ‘Christ’ back in Christmas?  How about putting the ‘Christ’ back in Christians?”) prompted a discussion on Facebook which included the comment that one person “no longer [identfied himself] as a Christian but rather as a follower of Christ.”  Following is my response:

When you change the wording, you’re attempting to address people’s first impressions of you as an individual.

This is understandable. No one likes to start off “in the red”, no matter the circumstances.

Still, community and co-suffering (as well as co-celebration!) are integral parts of what the Church is about. It should also be noted here that Christ said “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you.”

Followers of Christ should recognize that Christ didn’t duck away from labels or identification with those who he shared community with. He knew what Judas was doing, but didn’t shun him and didn’t take the label of “disciple” away from him.

And when Christ was asked if the label “Messiah” applied to him, he didn’t say “I don’t like to use that word. I prefer ‘Son of God.’” He acknowledged it (“It is you who says it”), even though that would result in suffering.

For what its worth, all my friends (many who are atheists) know that I’m a Christian. And lets admit it, they would know that I was even if I said “No, no. I identify myself as a follower of Christ, not a Christian.”

So, yes. The Church is full of broken people. There are many people (myself included) who claim the title of “Christian” who are gigantic hypocrites. It is surely annoying to have to deal with all that cultural baggage.

But changing the label doesn’t change much about this.

(I’m copying this from a long Facebook comment because I think it is worth a blog post, and I don’t really want to make a habit of giving FB only my valuable thoughts.  Because you know how valuable my thoughts are.)

A friend of mine pointed to this article on the failure of the photo startup Everpix.  He said he thought the failure could have been at least partly addressed by reducing their use of Amazon’s AWS. I’m not sure this is the case. From what I can see, AWS is priced very, very reasonably. For example, when I priced out Linode vs AWS, AWS was a lot cheaper and more flexible. And could replace my current colocated server at a fraction of the cost using Linode.  I’m working on moving my colocated server to AWS..

Further, bandwidth for this photo hosting on the scale they would need isn’t cheap. Using AWS they can get smaller amounts of bandwidth at a very cheap price and scale up to larger amounts quickly and easily.

Finally, AWS lets them avoid the overhead of all the negotiating that they would have to do to replace each of those services.

Instead, I would like to see a desktop version of the software that would let users use their algorithm to find those important pictures faster. And then, they could have a standalone Everpix appliance at home that would take eliminate all the bandwidth and storage costs that Everpix was incurring to run the service.

I would say what killed them was the insistence on running a web-based service without trying to use any network effects (at least, I haven’t seen anyone do anything like “Here’s a list of pictures I took on this day during the last 2-3 years, according to Everpix”).

They were in the web mindset and incurred the web’s costs for hosting and bandwidth without taking advantage of any network effects. It would have worked just as well as a desktop-only application and ended up being cheaper for them.

I’m half way through Edward Bernays book from 1928 titled Propaganda. (Yes, I’m a slow reader.)

I first became interested in Bernays after seeing The Century of the Self — a documentary that I highly recommend. Bernays was Freud’s nephew and, after working as a propagandist during the first world war, he took what he had learned and developed what is now modern marketing. In 1928, after he had successfully used what he learned in the war to get women to take up smoking, he wrote the handbook for marketing (although he thought of it mostly as public relations) titled Propaganda.

A recent blog post from The Last Psychiatrist caused me to track down Bernays’ book and I’m finding it quite useful.

He makes it very clear that modern marketing is tied to mass production:

Mass production is only profitable if its rhythm can be maintained — that is, if it can continue to sell its product in steady or increasing quantity. The result is that while, under the handicraft or small-unit system of production that was typical a century ago, demand created the supply, to-day supply must actively seek to create its corresponding demand. A single factory, potentially capable of supplying a whole continent with its particular product, cannot afford to wait until the public asks for its product; it must maintain constant touch, through advertising and propaganda, with the vast public in order to assure itself the continuous demand which alone will make its costly plant profitable.

This (“supply must create demand”) is distasteful to me, but prior to reading this I had some romantic notions about why modern marketing developed. Here it is clear it wasn’t simply evil business men deciding to increase demand for their products, but that this was the result of the introduction mass production which allows more people access to more goods. (Of course, this could lead to a conversation about sustainability, but I’ll gloss over that for now.)

The other thing that I find distasteful is his view of the public as something to be influenced and directed.

This invisible, intertwining structure of groupings and associations is the mechanism by which democracy has organized its group mind and simplified its mass thinking. To deplore the existence of such a mechanism is to ask for a society such as never was and never will be. To admit that it easts, but expect that it shall not be used, is unreasonable.

He makes his case quite well and one can see quite clearly that he is tries very hard to use his “power” in an ethical manner, but it still leaves you feeling a little uneasy.

So, what can we get from all this? For myself, as I work on promoting the use of MediaWiki, I’m taking seriously what he says about listening to the “public” and making sure that they are not totally against what you’re producing. Many people see the popularity of Wikipedia and decide they want something similar. And, MediaWiki is available and (relatively) easy to set up. The problem comes after people run it for any amount of time. That is the bit we haven’t worked on. And that is the area that we’ve realized needs work. Figuring out what people think MediaWiki is going to do, but fails at, and then delivering that. That is the big area where we can win.

And Bernays has helped me think about practical ways to do that. It isn’t a long book, but I’ll be re-reading it to write some notes for myself about how I can do things differently.

The Reason I Jump is the first book of its kind: a first-person account of the experience of autism written by an autistic 13-year-old boy.

Reading it, I was impressed by how the struggles he has are the same as everyone else’s, but how much more in-tune he is with the discomfort that he causes others.

For instance, his answers to questions like “Why do we have to tell you things over and over?” or “Why don’t you remember what we’ve told you” almost always include a plea to “stick with me” after attempting to explain why he does something incomprehensible or irritating.

I could see him struggling to be understood, realizing that the things he did irritated people and feeling despondent because of how these things affected those around him. But he couldn’t stop as easily as I can.

Despite this — or because of this — he seemed more motivated than I am to figure out how to control his involuntary actions.

It left me feeling a little guilty — like how I felt about myself when I heard about the dyslexic lawyer who was motivated to develop ways of learning and remembering that I’ve never even bothered with.

Heal the sickAs October 1st and the possibility to sign up for Obamacare gets closer, the world has had the dubious pleasure of watching American politicians fight over the best way to care for the those who can’t afford medical care.

The great thing about America is our federal system: As a federal program, Obamacare depends heavily on each state’s implementation of it. States whose legislatures and governors are politically sympathetic to the program (i.e. mostly Democrats) are doing everything they can to help it succeed. They’ve accepted increased Medicaid funding, set up state-run exchanges, and hired navigators to get things done.

But legislatures and governors who aren’t so politically sympathetic to Obamacare (i.e. mostly Republicans) aren’t content to let the program fail on its own — though many are convinced that it would. Instead, they are trying to block implementation at every step.

They often use the argument that the federal government can’t do anything right, but then, when Obamacare offers states the more Medicaid funding and the chance to run their own insurance exchange — after all, something run by the states is better than if it is run by the feds — they balk and leave their citizens to rely on the Federal implementation.

Obamacare recognizes that people will need help figuring out the new system, so part of it is the implementation of navigators in each state. In Florida, though, the state has passed legislation saying that navigators do not have access to their county health facilities.

I understand that some people don’t want Obamacare to succeed. Heck, they don’t even want people to get any benefit, because “when people get an entitlement, they never give it up, so let it burn.” I get that.

But trying to create failure by blocking access to Obamacare creates “bad optics” at the very least. Thankfully, some counties in Florida have found a way around the state’s ban on helping people enroll in Obamacare, but this only adds to the drama. It may even, indirectly, make the point that those closer to the individual are better able to serve than “those bureaucrats in Tallahassee”.

(Photo credit: Tabitha Kaylee Hawk)

A client asked me if I knew of a way to remove the spurious line feeds in a text that you copy from, say, a PDF into the textarea editing box for the wiki. The problem, which you may have seen, is that highlighting a couple of paragraphs of text in the source document and then pasting them into a textarea in your browser will end up with funny, unintended line breaks.

For example, copy the first paragraph of the second section of this paper and then pasting it into a textarea using Firefox gives this result:

The text should be divided into sections, each with a
separate heading and consecutive numbering. Note, how-
ever, that single secondary, tertiary, and quaternary sec-
tions remain unnumbered. Each section heading should be
placed on a separate line using the appropriate L
A
T
E
X com-
mands. For more detailed information on different sections
and their formatting see the Authors’ Guide.

After looking around a bit, I found lots of people talking about pasting problems, but no one offering a solution that would work in the browser instead of just on one particular web page.

After reading about JavaScript and pasting, poking around in the Firefox addons, I figured I knew enough to address the problem with GreaseMonkey.

jsfiddle provided a nice REPL for testing my code and it wasn’t too hard after that to put this together in GreaseMonkey and upload the result to UserScripts.org (after I recovered the password to my long-dormant account).

So, after all that, here is the result of the previous paste:

The text should be divided into sections, each with a separate heading and consecutive numbering. Note, however, that single secondary, tertiary, and quaternary sections remain unnumbered. Each section heading should be placed on a separate line using the appropriate L A T E X commands. For more detailed information on different sections and their formatting see the Authors’ Guide.

Hopefully this will be useful to others.

Scenes from Matanda, Malawi
This girl is going to have to walk 1km home. Photo from kym54 on Flickr.

This week, if you’ve seen any of my action on Twitter or Facebook, you probably know that I was admitted to the hospital on Monday for blood clots in my lungs. Three years ago I had a pulmonary embolism while I was in the hospital. To avoid the out on my third strike, I’m going to have to live the rest of my life regularizing my leafy green intake and taking Coumadin.

So, fine. I had a blood clot (again!) and I could have been one of the 100,000 Americans that die every year (one every 5 minutes) from a blood clot.

But I’m not. I survived. I’m very happy to be alive. I don’t really know how I would feel if I hadn’t survived this, but I know that my wife and children were quite upset when they came to see me in the hospital — their lives would be completely different had I not survived. And so, I’m happy for them that I’m sitting here in my back yard listening to the cicadas while my daughters play with the bugs they’ve caught today.

If the blood clot didn’t result in brain damage (i.e. a stroke), then the inconvenience of Coumadin is probably the most debilitating long term effect that most people suffer. There are even (very expensive) drugs available that take care of thinning the blood without being affected by diet. I’m on one now because the Heparin I was in the hospital for wasn’t getting my INR up quickly enough. But it costs $40 per dose. Paying $280 per week for preventative medicine doesn’t really work for my budget when there is a cheaper alternative (Coumadin) that has been working for 60 years.

But now when I tell people I’ve had two blood clots, they tend to freak out. “That sounds scary!” Or “I‘m praying for you.”

I understand this. When a friend of mine showed me a clot that he had in his leg, I was pretty surprised that he was up and about and not falling over in front of me. “Shouldn’t he be more worried?” I thought.

But now I think I understand his point of view a little better. People die from blood clots. Like I said, an American dies once every five minutes from one.

Maybe it is just that those of us who have had one (or two!) of them and survived realize that we are past the deadly part — we’re alive and life keeps happening.

I appreciate that the possibility of death looms every second that I’m alive. I appreciate the prayers of others for my health and my family’s well-being. Really, I’m grateful!

But I’m also grateful for drinkable running water. Water is essential for living, but most Westerner’s don’t spend time thinking about how blessed they are that they don’t have to walk to a communal well every day to get their water. And I don’t spend time telling them how lucky they are to have running water.

Death looms, but I’m alive.

It takes a lot of infrastructure and work that we don’t usually see to get plenty of fresh water, but I can take a nice long shower.

I’m lucky to be alive. There, I’ve acknowledged it. Can I just get on with living?