That's what she or he or Michael Scott said


Last Friday, the bot went a bit crazy and started throwing ["That what she said"] into the conversation with no apparent rhyme or reason. Finally, I had had enough. And then it came to me: I would write my OWN bot, that responded to TWSS with a quotation from a notable woman. If they are so keen on what she said, why don’t we get educated about what she really had to say. And so the “whatshereallysaid” bot was born. It might annoy the guys into shutting off the TWSS bot, or we might all learn about notable women. It’s a win either way, in my books!

As a side note, I've always found "That what she said" to be annoying humor, not just because it can be sexist but because it's also just the dumbest, sloppiest humor you can think of. It's used by Michael Scott in "The Office" ironically, as an example of what a socially inept man-child might think of as funny. When and how it got stripped of that irony I'll never know.

But is it too much to ask people to be less stupid than Michael Scott?

Gender in Diaspora

There’s some discussion on Sarah Mei’s blog about the fact that the “gender” field in the Diaspora code base is a text field, and not a dropdown. I paid attention during my cultural studies classes and I personally have no problem with the implications of having more than two choices for gender. However, there is a tension here, as there often is, between having the data be exhaustive and having the data be easy to enter.

I guess I’d take it as a given that the vast majority of Diaspora users will want to identify their gender as male or female, and for this people this change is a small step backward in terms of usability. Having a text field when you could have a dropdown or radio button of just two choices is noticeably less usable. And if you want your gender to be searchable (probably if you’re single), then you don’t get any guidance regarding whether you should enter your gender as “male” or “MALE” or “m” or “guy”. So it seems like some presets in the UX are probably in order, regardless of what the data is stored as.

There are probably implications for pronouns: LambdaMOO offers a great precedent for how to handle them. Here’s a list of their standard presets (they support ten genders out of the box) and then if you want to go off on your own and define a non-standard gender, you have the option of defining your own custom pronouns to match.

Of course, depending on how pervasive the usage of pronouns are in the site, this points to a future where Diaspora becomes a profoundly non-gender-binary sort of place. As somebody who once spent a lot of time on LambdaMOO, I can tell you that the non-standard pronouns there made the gender diversity extremely noticeable. You could make the analogy that Diaspora will do to gender binarism what MySpace did to graphic design. Whether you consider that a plus or a minus will depend on your priorities, of course.

As a side note: I’m reminded of how most sites will separate name fields into fields like first_name and last_name, but the more correct way to do it is to call them given_name and family_name, since that’s more applicable across cultures where they might say the family name first. In fact, bigger companies are more likely to make that change: In the tradeoff between usability and thoroughness a larger company is far more likely to choose thoroughness. So, maybe you could tell people gender is a text field because that will make the Diaspora software more “enterprise”?

Our frumpy love is unstoppable

Via Buzzfeed. Congrats to Shelly & Ellen, and all gays and lesbians in California. And really, to all of us.

RMS, and nerd sensitivities

More troublesome tech conference talk, this time by RMS. David Schlesinger posts an email exchange with him about a recent talk he gave:

The more significant problem was your comments regarding “EMAC virgins”, which you defined as being specifically “_women_ who had never used EMACS”, and for whom being “relieved” of this “virginity” was a “holy duty”. My reaction, and the reaction of a large number of members of the audience with whom I’ve spoken was one of great dismay.

Your remarks gave the distinct impression that you view women as being in particular need of technical assistance (presumably by men, since there’s apparently no such thing as a _male_ “EMACS virgin”); additionally, women are quite capable of making their own decisions about who might relieve them of whatever sort of “virginity”. I (and many others) viewed these remarks as denigrating and demeaning to women, as well as completely out of place at what is, in essence, a technical conference.

Stallman responds, but in this off-kilter, evasive way that doesn’t really address or attempt to refute the issue David is raising:

Continue reading “RMS, and nerd sensitivities” »

Another porn conference brouhaha, this time in the Flash world

Seriously, what the fuck.

He opens his keynote with one of those “Ignite”-esque presentations — where you have 5-minutes and 20 slides to tell a story — and the first and last are a close-up of a woman’s lower half, her legs spread (wearing stilettos, of course) and her shaved vagina visible through some see-thru panties that say “drink me,” with Hoss’s Photoshopped, upward-looking face placed below it.

Abortion stories

fhwang.net: Reading Andrew Sullivan’s 200 posts a day, so you don’t have to.

In the wake of George Tiller’s assassination, Sullivan has been collecting a number of personal stories about abortion. I found this one, from the husband of a Tiller patient, the most moving:

... I remember being puzzled about a T-shirt he was wearing, which said “Happy Birthday Jennifer from team Tiller!” or something similar. Turns out it comemmorated the birthday of a fifteen year old girl who was raped, became pregnant, and came to Tiller for an abortion. As luck would have it, she was in the clinic the same week as her birthday. So the clinic threw her a party.

The walls of the clinic reception and waiting room are literally covered with letters from patients thanking him. Some were heartbreaking – obviously young and/or poorly educated people thanking Dr. Tiller for being there when they had no other options, explaining their family, church etc. had abandoned them.

And there’s this, from a Catholic mother:

At 17 weeks gestation our baby had been diagnosed with major heart defects requiring a minimum of three risky open-heart surgeries beginning at birth, and would later require a heart transplant. At 19 weeks we were finally given our amnio results which revealed our baby also had Trisomy 21.

A surgeon at the major teaching hospital where we’d had our fetal echocardiogram informed us that even if our baby somehow survived his palliative surgeries, this latest diagnosis meant he would not ever be eligible for a heart transplant. As we sat talking quietly in our living room, our priest shared with us that he’d spent time at the same hospital where we’d had our fetal echocardiogram and where our son would have had surgery.

He was there to support the family of a three-month-old who was having heart surgery. In the three weeks or so that he tended to this family, he also met 10 other families in the waiting room, each of whom also had young babies undergoing heart surgery. Sadly, within the short space of time our priest was there, every single one of those babies died.

Our priest came away from that experience feeling that this world-renowned children’s hospital was basically experimenting on babies. He saw their futile suffering and likened it to being crucified. The family he had gone there to support later told him that if they had only known what their baby would be forced to go through before dying, they would never have chosen surgery. Our priest told us that he believed we were not choosing our son’s death, only choosing the timing of his death in order to spare him a great deal of suffering. Something he said that brought us great comfort was “God knows what is in your hearts.” God knows our choice was based on mercy and compassion. Who would better understand our hearts than God, who made the choice for His own Son to die?

Many more here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Sign of the times

Got a letter the other day from my health insurance company:

Your certificate of coverage has been updated to include the following definition of Spouse:

Spouse: A person’s partner (husband or wife) in a legal marriage. For purposes of Dependent eligibility under this Certificate, spouse includes same sex partners who are married in jurisdictions that recognize same sex marriages.

More reax on Ruby & Rails & women

Martin Fowler weighs in:

My observation is that most men in the software business think that there isn’t much sexism left in the profession – that this curse is a memory from a previous generation. Yet when I talk to women, I hear a different story. Nearly every one can tell me recent stories where they were clearly expected to feel degraded and belittled because of their gender. So some sexually suggestive pictures aren’t a joke to them, they are a pointed reminder of disturbing behavior, and a reminder that such events can happen again at any time. One of the great difficulties for white guys like me is that we haven’t been in that position; where prejudice can appear out of any corner, reinforced by the fact that every other face looks different.

As does Tim Bray:

I’m a technology generalist who attends every flavor of gathering. It’s impossible to avoid noticing that, even by the lopsided standard of high-tech culture, the Ruby and Rails communities are dramatically, painfully short of female members.

Josh Susser apologizes, though I’m not sure if he has anything to apologize for:

First off, I want to apologize. The technical program at GoGaRuCo was my responsibility. I could have done a better job and prevented this from happening. Everyone had the best of intentions and there are good reasons why things happened the way they did, but that doesn’t excuse the lapse. As a first-time conference organizer there was a lot that I had to learn as I went, and this is definitely an important lesson. I haven’t yet figured out the best way to prevent this from happening again, but I’m determined to find a way to do better next time.

And Sarah Allen proposes some plans.

I think that if we had monthly events, specifically targeted at women, and were able to effectively spread the word, then we could make it so the SF Ruby events has a more balanced audience and that at next year’s Golden Gate Ruby Conference, half the audience and speakers could be women. I’m not saying every person who attended a workshop or meetup would fall in love with Ruby, but some of them would. It would bring in all sorts of new energy to the community drawing from all different areas of tech.

Fifty percent female attendees in one year sounds, well, impossible, but what do I know?

On diversity, and whether it's worth the trouble

Let me try to put this in terms that might be of interest to your average guy programmer: So let’s say you have a girlfriend, and from time to time you say something that upsets her, when that wasn’t even what you intended. This is a bit of a sitcom cliche, but I dare say that life is gendered enough that this sort of thing happens a lot in the real world too. There are basically three ways you can deal with this:

1. You can say “what’s the big deal”, and not try to change at all, and try to convince her that she’s being oversensitive or uptight or she’s overreacting or whatever. You’ll probably get further with this tactic without actually using the words “oversensitive” or “uptight” or “overreacting” in the conversation. This might work a few times in the short term, but if you do it a lot, it’s not inconceivable that one day she’ll say to herself “he doesn’t care about my feelings” and break up with you.

2. You can say “bitch, you crazy” and break up with her. Always an option, and some differences are genuinely irreconcilable.

Continue reading “On diversity, and whether it's worth the trouble” »

The gogaruco thing

I didn’t go to GoGaRuCo, which I’ve heard was great. I have been following the discussion about Matt Aimonetti’s talk and slides closely, and found Sarah Allen’s blog post (and follow-up comments) to be really interesting:

... the porn references continued with images of scantily-clad women gratuitously splashed across technical diagrams and intro slides. As he got into code snippets, he inserted interstitial images every few slides (removed from the slides below). The first time it happened, he mentioned that he wanted to keep everyone’s attention. It had the reverse effect. This technique was distracting and disrespectful to an audience who, frankly, is turned on by code. This crowd had just watch hour upon hour of code slide shows and live irb sessions, often on the edge of their seats as they absorbed the latest whiz-bang plugin or coding technique from one of the masters.

My two cents? Matt is probably a good guy, and he’s probably totally cool to women in his personal and professional life. This talk seems like a bit of a misfire to me, and a reminder that in the complicated world that we live in, it’s possible to upset other people without meaning to at all. You can prioritize unfettered expression if you want, but if that ends up makes a significant minority of Ruby programmers less psyched about being part of the community, personally I’d rather find some sort of middle ground.

I’m also liking the fact that a number of people commenting there (not everyone) are able to discuss this issue without calling people “puritan” or “uptight” on one side, or “sexist” or “exploitative” on the other side. These are complex issues and a bit of calm and benefit of the doubt helps.

Also, who the hell wants to be a porn star? That shit’s depressing. I’d rather have a career path where plastic surgery isn’t a big part of professional development, thanks.