14 stories

I'm Loyal to Nothing Except the Dream

5 Comments and 12 Shares

There is much I take for granted in my life, and the normal functioning of American government is one of those things. In my 46 years, I've lived under nine different presidents. The first I remember is Carter. I've voted in every presidential election since 1992, but I do not consider myself a Democrat, or a Republican. I vote based on leadership – above all, leadership – and issues.

In my 14 years of blogging, I've never written a political blog post. I haven't needed to.

Until now.

It is quite clear something has become deeply unglued in the state of American politics.

As of 2017, the United States, through a sequence of highly improbable events, managed to elect an extremely controversial president.

A president with historically low approval ratings, elected on a platform many considered too extreme to even be taken literally:

Asked about Trump’s statements proposing the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border and a ban on all Muslims entering the country, Thiel suggested that Trump supporters do not actually endorse those policies.

“I don’t support a religious test. I certainly don’t support the specific language that Trump has used in every instance,” he said. “But I think one thing that should be distinguished here is that the media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally.”

The billionaire went on to define how he believes the average Trump supporter interprets the candidate’s statements. “I think a lot of voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally, so when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment their question is not, ‘Are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China?’ or, you know, ‘How exactly are you going to enforce these tests?’ What they hear is we’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy.”

A little over a week into the new presidency, it is obvious that Trump meant every word of what he said. He will build a US-Mexico wall. And he signed an executive order that literally, not figuratively, banned Muslims from entering the US — even if they held valid green cards.

As I said, I vote on policies, and as an American, I reject these two policies. Our Mexican neighbors are not an evil to be kept out with a wall, but an ally to be cherished. One of my favorite people is a Mexican immigrant. Mexican culture is ingrained deeply into America and we are all better for it. The history of America is the history of immigrants seeking religious freedom from persecution, finding a new life in the land of opportunity. Imagine the bravery it takes to leave everything behind, your relatives, your home, your whole life as you know it, to take your entire family on a five thousand mile journey to another country on nothing more than the promise of a dream. I've never done that, though my great-great grandparents did. Muslim immigrants are more American than I will ever be, and I am incredibly proud to have them here, as fellow Americans.

Help Keep Your School All American!

Trump is the first president in 40 years to refuse to release his tax returns in office. He has also refused to divest himself from his dizzying array of businesses across the globe, which present financial conflicts of interest. All of this, plus the hasty way he is ramrodding his campaign plans through on executive orders, with little or no forethought to how it would work – or if it would work at all – speaks to how negligent and dangerous Trump is as the leader of the free world. I want to reiterate that I don't care about party; I'd be absolutely over the moon with President Romney or President McCain, or any other rational form of leadership at this point.

It is unclear to me how we got where we are today. But echoes of this appeal to nationalism in Poland, and in Venezula, offer clues. We brought fact checkers to a culture war … and we lost. During the election campaign, I was strongly reminded of Frank Miller's 1986 Nuke story arc, which I read in Daredevil as a teenager — the seductive appeal of unbridled nationalism bleeding across the page in stark primary colors.

Daredevil issue 233, page excerpt

Nuke is a self-destructive form of America First nationalism that, for whatever reasons, won the presidency through dark subvocalized whispers, and is now playing out in horrifying policy form. But we are not now a different country; we remain the very same country that elected Reagan and Obama. We lead the free world. And we do it by taking the higher moral ground, choosing to do what is right before doing what is expedient.

I exercised my rights as a American citizen and I voted, yes. But I mostly ignored government beyond voting. I assumed that the wheels of American government would turn, and reasonable decisions would be made by reasonable people. Some I would agree with, others I would not agree with, but I could generally trust that the arc of American history inexorably bends toward justice, towards freedom, toward equality. Towards the things that make up the underlying American dream that this country is based on.

This is no longer the case.

I truly believe we are at an unprecedented time in American history, in uncharted territory. I have benefited from democracy passively, without trying at all, for 46 years. I now understand that the next four years is perhaps the most important time to be an activist in the United States since the civil rights movement. I am ready to do the work.

  • I have never once in my life called my representatives in congress. That will change. I will be calling and writing my representatives regularly, using tools like 5 Calls to do so.

  • I will strongly support, advocate for, and advertise any technical tools on web or smartphone that help Americans have their voices heard by their representatives, even if it takes faxing to do so. Build these tools. Make them amazing.

  • I am subscribing to support essential investigative journalism such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post.

  • I have set up large monthly donations to the ACLU which is doing critical work in fighting governmental abuse under the current regime.

  • I have set up monthly donations to independent journalism such as ProPublica and NPR.

  • I have set up monthly donations to agencies that fight for vulnerable groups, such as Planned Parenthood, Center for Reproductive Rights, Refugee Rights, NAACP, MALDEF, the Trevor Project, and so on.

  • I wish to see the formation of a third political party in the United States, led by those who are willing to speak truth to power like Evan McMullin. It is shameful how many elected representatives will not speak out. Those who do: trust me, we're watching and taking notes. And we will be bringing all our friends and audiences to bear to help you win.

  • I will be watching closely to see which representatives rubber-stamp harmful policies and appointees, and I will vote against them across the ticket, on every single ticket I can vote on.

  • I will actively support all efforts to make the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact happen, to reform the electoral college.

  • To the extent that my schedule allows, I will participate in protests to combat policies that I believe are harmful to Americans.

  • I am not quite at a place in my life where I'd consider running for office, but I will be, eventually. To the extent that any Stack Overflow user can be elected a moderator, I could be elected into office, locally, in the house, even the senate. Has anyone asked Joel Spolsky if he'd be willing to run for office? Because I'd be hard pressed to come up with someone I trust more than my old business partner Joel to do the right thing. I would vote for him so hard I'd break the damn voting machine.

I want to pay back this great country for everything it has done for me in my life, and carry the dream forward, not just selfishly for myself and my children, but for everyone's children, and our children's children. I do not mean the hollow promises of American nationalism

We would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism—that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder—one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking—cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on— have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

… but the enduring values of freedom, justice, and equality that this nation was founded on. I pledge my allegiance to the American dream, and the American people – not to the nation, never to the nation.

Daredevil issue 233, page excerpt

I apologize that it's taken me 46 years to wake up and realize that some things, like the American dream, aren't guaranteed. There will come a time where you have to stand up and fight for them, for democracy to work. I will.

Will you?

[advertisement] At Stack Overflow, we help developers learn, share, and grow. Whether you’re looking for your next dream job or looking to build out your team, we've got your back.
Read the whole story
2717 days ago
Share this story
5 public comments
2704 days ago
Sharing, in case it causes one more person to read and be moved to do more than complain on the internet. Really a powerful essay.
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth
2706 days ago
This is incredible and considering the source, it's going to be read by a lot of people.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
2718 days ago
… but the enduring values of freedom, justice, and equality that this nation was founded on. I pledge my allegiance to the American dream, and the American people – not to the nation, never to the nation.
Mainz, Deutschland
2720 days ago
And the nerds start to get a little more woke.
2721 days ago
Powerfully well said.
Atlanta, GA

Three Martini Open Office Plans

1 Share

A tweet came into my Twitter feed last night, and I noted that (1) I was a little late to the party and (2) it was wildly popular.  I found myself a bit surprised, because it was critical of the open plan office construct, which I figured was by now just an accepted condition of salaried employment, like status meetings or PTO limits.  Apparently, however, this is one particular management fad that has not met with universal approval.  The tweet (shown below), is trending toward 10K likes and retweets.

Personally, I love open plan offices.  Granted, I don’t actually work in one with any regularity, but I enjoy them immensely when I have occasion to park for a few hours at a client site.  It’s sort of like going to the gym, but without the sweating.  Actually, I’d say, it’s more like going to a bar (more on that later).

Three Martini Lunchers

I’m a type A introvert, and I work predominantly from home (or a hotel wherever I happen to be, since I travel a lot).  This means that it’s not uncommon for me to get swept up in my work and log 10+ hour stints of heavy concentration.  For instance, I recently wrote an E-Book for a client in 2 days.  It’s like I go into a sensory deprivation chamber and I get things done, delivering code, write-ups, posts, or whatever to clients on or ahead of schedule.

But following a productivity ‘binge’ like that, there are typically human connection things that have to happen.  I travel to a client site to present something in person or I get on a series of conference calls to collaborate.  It is in these situations that hyper-productivity ends and human connection begins in the meatspace.  Consulting requires more than just output — it requires relationship management.

More and more these days, when I pull that part of a tour of duty, it happens in an open plan office, simply because there are more and more open office plans.  Even clients that don’t have them now talk sheepishly about how they should.  For me, fresh off a week or two of minimal human interaction and intense productivity, I fly somewhere and meet with people for a couple of days, wherein the goal is mainly relationship forging.  In this capacity I’m greeted by someone who proudly demonstrates the egalitarian nature of the office space, and ushers me to a high top or to a focus room or whatever they’re calling it.

At this point, it’s as if I were in a college Starbucks that served a single company.  Some patrons are sitting alone, studying glowing screens, while others gather in impromptu circles, having animated discussions.  There’s the occasional jerk making lots of noise and distracting everyone and the occasional good-natured hijinks in the form or Nerf guns or whatever.  The result is a Dionysian experience to my Appolonian, introverted sensibilities.  I wouldn’t want to try to get serious, thought-intensive work done in such a place (if I needed to do that, I’d obviously leave), but it’s a nice way to obtain social camaraderie without much pressure.

Lack of Value

Clearly, there’s something amiss here.  Not having given the matter much conscious thought, I’m just now discovering that my take on open office plans is, “that’s fun and refreshing in limited doses, as long as I can retreat somewhere to get serious work done.”  And that’s fine for me, because I largely control my own working conditions.  But what about people with a similar mindset to mine, but who are employed by these companies and thus forced into Discovery Zone-Starbucks 40 hours per week?  Presumably these people exist, if the popularity of the tweet above is any indication.

For people in this situation, the novelty of human connection must wear off and give way to maddening peccadilloes — the guy next to them clearing his throat every five minutes or the woman three seats down that eats a weird-smelling lunch every day.  After a day, this is annoying.  After a week, it’s infuriating.  After a month or a year, sadly, it’s just your life and you’re used to it.

As the tweet suggests, and as apparent studies indicate, even if this is good for morale (e.g. mine), it is bad for productivity.

Though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Compared with standard offices, employees experienced more uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and motivation. When David Craig surveyed some thirty-eight thousand workers, he found that interruptions by colleagues were detrimental to productivity, and that the more senior the employee,

You have a legion of employees that feel more connected and more tightly bonded, but that also feel as though they don’t get much done.  The open office plan encourages exchanging value for feels.  That should seem crazy in a world where organizations are trying to maximize profit.

And, yet, it doesn’t.  At least, it doesn’t seem crazy to me.  I’ve talked in past posts about how the value provided by any individual employee in an organization is virtually unknowable for sufficiently large organizations (and this is probably on the order of dozens of humans, not thousands).  To me, it then makes perfect sense that companies would willingly sacrifice individual satisfaction and productivity at the altar of “easy collaboration and communication.”

Companies like open office plans for the same reason that companies can’t kick the habit of too many meetings.  Both are vehicles for blurring the line between activity and productivity.  A lot of people are meeting, talking, exchanging ideas, being passionate, and shooting one another with squirt guns.  That’s got to be productive, right?  Right?!

Three Martinis

I think it’d actually be really interesting to consider a philosophical question (and even to measure it if possible).  Do open office plans sublimate individual productivity into some kind of gestalt of group success?  Is it possible that every group member is slightly less productive, but that the entire group is actually more productive, after accounting for the ‘collisions’ that happen in open settings (or whatever)?  Or, to put it another way, are they scratching some kind of organizational itch?

I’ll close out by offering what is probably an unusual take on the matter.  I’d say that open plans are, indeed, scratching an itch — one that has been unscratched for a while in the corporate world.  They’re standing in for the 3 martini lunch.  The world has moved away from alcohol being such a pervasive part of a work day, but the extrovert ideal still runs strong, so something has to serve as social lubrication.

I’ve never seen the show “Mad Men,” but I understand that it paints a hard-drinking picture of the business world from 50 or 60 years ago.  The 3 martini lunch was definitely a thing in the 50s, but it lasted up until the late 70s or early 80s.  To be clear, 30+ years ago, it was perfectly normal in the US for office workers to leave their quiet offices and cubicles, dressed in suits with skinny ties, and to get bombed at lunch.  They’d go out at noon, eat and drink for an hour or two, and return to work, having consumed the equivalent of a six pack of beer.

Was this good for productivity?  I cannot possibly imagine that it was.  But, did it have some kind of gestalt property — some kind of social lubrication — that lowered barriers to communication, fostered camaraderie, and lent a certain je ne sais quoi to the corporate experience?  I don’t know the answer to that either.  But I bet that an entire generation of office workers, nursing slight headaches at 3 PM, would have told you that it did.  Just as I bet our generation pulls off their noise-canceling headphones, and tells you that it’s awesome working at gigantic tables reminiscent of 1890’s factories.

You do have to wonder, though, if Twitter had been around 30-40 years ago, might someone have tweeted:

Myth: 3 martini lunches result in camaraderie.

Reality: 2 bond then puke loudly; 30 shut office doors to get any work done.

The post Three Martini Open Office Plans appeared first on DaedTech.

Read the whole story
2941 days ago
Share this story

How to optimise your time as a coder

1 Comment and 2 Shares


Read the whole story
3042 days ago
Every time.
Share this story

The Best Way to Hire Developers

1 Comment

Editorial Note: I originally wrote this post for the Infragistics blog.  You can find the original here, at their site.  There’s a lot of good stuff over there, so go give it a look.

The other night, I was remembering what might have been my most impressive performance in the interview process.  What makes this performance particularly interesting, however, is not how well I did, but rather how I did well.  And the how left me feeling unsatisfied with myself and with the process.

I was interviewing for a software development position, and this particular organization’s interview process was (1) phone interview, (2) programming exercise, (3) in-person interview. The phone interview went pretty well, and the recruiter had told me that the company was excited about me – a mildly good sign, for whatever it was worth.

However accurate the recruiter’s assessment may or may not have been, the company’s feelings were positive enough to give me the programming exercise.  This all occurred back when I was in grad school, and, at the time of this particular interview, I was in a class called “Advanced Database Design,” in which we explored persistence options beyond the traditional, relational database.  This was a bit of an avant garde class, at the time, because the NoSQL movement had yet to gain a ton of steam.

When they handed me the programming exercise, I had just, in this very class, wrapped up a chapter in which we’d studied using R-Trees to store geographical information.  This unit of study included what they were, how they were used, and a bit of pseudocode to really drive the point home.  As fate would have it, the R-Tree happened to be an extremely elegant solution to the programming exercise for this interview.


The Anatomy of Winning an Interview

This exercise felt like, as they say, shooting fish in a barrel.  I recognized that the thing I had just learned was applicable to my situation, and I, well, applied it.  I ran some automated tests on it for verification purposes and then turned the exercise around pretty quickly.

The company was ecstatic, and I didn’t need to try to read their reaction through the recruiter.  They reached out directly about flying me out for an interview and told me, point blank, that this was by far the best solution they’d seen submitted to the exercise.  I felt as though I were the hero in some really lame Indiana Jones movie, where the ancient gatekeeper had been waiting millennia for someone to come along and solve the programming exercise with an R-Tree.

I wound up passing on the interview, but only because something better came along as I negotiated the details of flying out to meet them.  They were clearly disappointed, and they encouraged me to let them know if I changed my mind.  I liked the company, and this overture made me feel good.

And yet, I came away from the whole experience feeling strangely empty.  As good as it made me feel to have impressed a company so profoundly, there was no denying that this was largely a matter of luck.  Had I done the coding exercise a few weeks earlier, I wouldn’t have known about R-Trees.  Had I done the exercise a few months later, I might have forgotten about R-Trees altogether as an option.  In neither case would I have blown away my interviewers, meaning my ”unprecedented” performance was a happy coincidence rather than a reflection of me being some kind of uber-programmer.

Programmers, Don’t Sweat “Failure”

Have you ever sat for an interview or programming exercise that demanded knowledge you simply didn’t have?  Famously, if you ever have occasion to interview for Google, you’ll discover that their initial phone interview is basically like an oral midterm from your undergrad CS program’s senior-year algorithms class.  O notation. Sorting algorithms. All that fun stuff.  They aren’t alone in that by a long shot, but their interview process is iconic.

To combat being caught off guard, you probably study up before you hit the job market, making sure you can field a wide array of technical questions.  After all, you never know what they’ll throw at you.  But the thing is, you never know what they’ll ask—or what knowledge you or any of the other candidates have recently acquired that will be perfectly timed for this interview.

You may be up against someone like me who just happens to have read a white paper detailing a solution to the exact problem of which the interviewers are so proud.  If that’s what happens, well, you’re just out of luck.

And that’s why you shouldn’t feel bad.  The interview process is actually depressingly random and non-scientific.  “Failing” an interview doesn’t mean that you’ve actually “failed” at anything. It just means that you haven’t had the good fortune to read the material that would have let you pass.

Companies, Focus on the Right Things

Do you have an interview process like this one?  Do you have a process where, all else being equal, you’ll wind up hiring a candidate that just happened to read up on R-Trees?  If you do, I’d suggest some introspection to evaluate whether or not that might be a hiring process smell.

In my experience, interviews aim to understand one or more of the following three things: what does this candidate know, what has this candidate done, and what can this candidate do?  These are ordered both in usefulness (least to most) and difficulty to evaluate (least to most).

What a candidate knows is probably the least useful, since human beings spend their lives learning and what they know can change easily.  But it’s easy to evaluate. Include trivia quizzes and the like as part of your interview process, and you can figure out what they know.

What a candidate has done is a little trickier, but it’s more useful.  I mean, sure, they have resumes and anecdotes, but dissembling is always a possibility.  You can be more sure that they know what an R-Tree is by quizzing them than you can be sure that they’ve implemented R Trees by hearing them make that assertion.  But if they’ve successfully implemented it before, that’s more valuable than them knowing what one is.

But the importance of what they know or what they’ve done pales in comparison to this: “Will this person, confronted with a situation that needs an R-Tree, do the requisite research and translate that into a solution?”  That’s what you really want to know. Those last two things are just proxies for trying to know it.

I certainly don’t have any unprecedented insight into the best way to conduct interviews. Evaluating candidates is hard.  But I can tell you that the closer you get to creating evaluations for what candidates can do, the more likely you are to have successful hires.

The post The Best Way to Hire Developers appeared first on DaedTech.

Read the whole story
3116 days ago
So very true.
Share this story

Southwest flight attendant's hilarious, freestyle safety announcement

1 Comment and 2 Shares

Give that FA a raise! Put her in charge of the airline! Make her chairwoman of the FAA!

video link

(via Metafilter)

Read the whole story
3476 days ago
Share this story

Connect the Dots: Ken Ham Edition

1 Comment

(Via Skeptical Spectacles)

Read the whole story
3513 days ago
Love it.
Share this story
Next Page of Stories