Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Twitter Activism: Busybody Backfire

Adria Richards

By now you probably already know the name Adria Richards.  Well at least if you follow the technology press that is.  She's the polarizing tweeter who outed a couple of boys behaving badly

The cliff notes version of the story is that a group of men were sitting behind Richards at the PyCon conference (A conference for Python developers) making dirty jokes laced with sexual innuendo.  
Richards was specifically offended by remarks they made in response to a speaker such as "big dongle" and "forking repos" which apparently spurred her into action.

She snapped a photo of the two men with her phone and tweeted it with the following: " Not cool. Jokes about forking repo's in a sexual way and "big" dongles.Right behind me #pycon"

Mind you, they weren't talking to her or at her, in fact they probably didn't even notice she was there.  That was until everyone got fired.

The twitterverse went nuts over this.  Most of the response was negative as most responses on the Internet are.  What doesn't seem to fit is that anyone got fired over this or that it became such a big deal.

There's a part of me that likes to see a busybody get a taste of their own medicine and make no mistake, Richards is a busybody.  That she was so determined to ruin someone for behaving like an ass using twitter activism proves that.

People in the tech industry live on the Internet and feel no hesitation in laying open the entirety of their existence for the world to see.  That exposes them to a level of vulnerability that old men like me think twice about. 

So it should be no surprise that your actions in the virtual world have consequences in the real one.  All the parties involved knew that but Richard's decided to be a passive-aggressive activist.  She would likely have had a better outcome if she had just turned around and asked them to shut up.  Nothing muzzles a man faster than a woman calling him on the carpet.   

Should women have to be subjected to lewd and lascivious ramblings? Of course not but it's within your rights to be moron and nobody was talking to or even about Richards. 

It seems we're back to the age old problem of how men are different from women.  Generally,  most men would rather their world was like a weekend trip to Vegas while women would likely prefer something akin to the Lilith Fair. 

Unless Homo Sapiens suddenly become hermaphroditic  that won't change no matter how much you may
The Accused at Pycon
want it to.  It's not an excuse, it's biology.

Richard's job was described as a "Developer Evangelist"  I suppose that in this case she took the title in the biblical sense.  To that end her tweets ran against her job description of being " to build and strengthen our Developer Community across the globe."  A global community isn't always politically correct.  Besides, her followers were looking for information about a Python conference not a blow by blow of a couple of idiots.

It's not that she didn't have a right to be offended or to call these bozos out.  However, the way she did it was unprofessional and ultimately got her fired for the hate mail that resulted. 

Did she deserve it? To some extent yes but I'd draw the line at death and rape threats.  Unfortunately, the Internet can be a very violent place populated with uber egos and social retardation.  It's not right but it comes with the territory and we all know it.

Was firing the answer? I don't think so.   Surely there were other positions she could have been moved into. 
Did the knuckle dragging chauvinists (at least they were on that day) deserve to be fired? Probably not but they definitely needed some sensitivity training and maybe some potty training as well since they were obviously immature.  I've met plenty of people of both sexes who could use a refresher course in how to conduct themselves in public.

Still, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone", says the bible.  Richard's may have been justified in being offended but wrong in her actions especially considering her chosen vocation.  If you're getting paid to "evangelize" to a bunch of programmers you'd better understand that your audience may not be as progressive as you are.

It's no different than being a conservative politician who comes out in favor of a liberal agenda.  It's a pretty good bet that you're not going to be on team Red much longer.

If you're a guy, chances are you've been those two morons at some point in your life and may have even offended a few people.  If you're a woman you've probably witnessed it and wished looks could kill. 

Thing is, nobody ever tried to ruin your life over it.  People who run around the world seeking to remake it in their own utopian image are called idealists.  If they get enough power they're called fascists which is the secret dream of every busybody even if they think their intentions are pure.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Taking the most from the least of us

These days you'd be excused if you wondered whom your elected representatives were actually representing. 

Locked in a battle of ideology where there is no middle ground it's left those with the most to lose in a veritable no-man's land.  If you've suffered the fallout you're living a precarious existence subject to the whims of the political machine.

The proof is easy to find.

The long term unemployed have found their benefit periods drastically reduced and with the looming threat of sequester the size of those checks as well. 

State run healthcare programs have already been denying benefits to the unmarried or childless and reduced benefits and tightened eligibility for the rest..   Even Planned Parenthood and other providers of women's health services nationwide have seen their public funding evaporate based on nothing more than anti-abortion rhetoric . 

While conservatives wage war on social programs, liberals can do little more than act as a backstop even with control of the White House and the Senate.  Progressive legislation frequently finds itself gutted in favor of getting something, anything passed through congress no matter how toothless the legislation.

Wall street doesn't seem to care either way.  In this battle they may as well be the war profiteers taking full advantage of the spoils.  They can literally have their cake and eat it too.  Public policy be damned or more likely ignored so long as the shareholders are happy. 

It's no doubt they will be.

Give the working man a little more cash and they'll happily feed the economy and fill corporate coffers.  Suppress their wages while systematically dismantling a century of labor law and your fortune's made on the backs of a subjugated workforce. 

So as ideologies clash and items like tax reform and infrastructure rebuilding give way to naming post offices  and the minting of commemorative coins, state governments and big business are taking advantage of the lack of governance. 

Look no further for evidence than the state of Arizona now famous for its "Show me your papers" legislation otherwise known as SB1070. 

A week ago their state legislature decided that it was just too easy to get unemployment insurance after conservative business leaders found a sympathetic ear at the state capitol.  For their trouble they got a measure through the state House and Senate to require applicants to provide written documentation from their former employer of their involuntary dismissal from their jobs.

As written, the measure is so biased against the unemployed that all an employer has to do is not provide the applicant with required documentation and the claim can denied.  

Considering funding for the state's unemployment insurance fund comes from employers it's likely the unemployment rate in Arizona will soon drop to 0% in the next 6 months.  Whew! budget crisis solved!

Yes, that's sarcasm...

By the way, Arizona has one of the lowest maximum weekly benefit payments in the country at $240 second only to Mississippi.   Yeah, the gravy train is over you unemployed slackers .

To hear supporters of the measure you'd believe that getting unemployment insurance in Arizona required nothing more than having a social security number and a pulse.  With approximately 75,000 of the state's population of 6.5 million people still on the unemployment rolls (down from 200,0000 in 2010) it's hard to characterize their position as anything but cruel.

The U.S. Department of Labor has already "raised concerns" about the bill's legality under federal law.  Oh yeah, and Arizona's official unemployment rate was still at 8% in January.

Here's another one.  CVS Pharmacy has decided that they need to keep tabs on their employees vital statistics.  Employees covered by the company's health plan are required to provide information such as weight, body fat and other health information or be assessed a $50 per month fee on top of their insurance premiums.    In other words CVS employees can comply with this violation of their privacy or pay a penalty.
So if you're collecting unemployment or refuse to submit to employer inquiries about your private health information apparently you're part of the problem.  Meanwhile Washington lets it happen.

We're not talking about forcing millionaires to drive down to a homeless shelter and pass out fistfuls of $20 bills.  It's about subjugating a population already suffering the ravages of a withering economy and a congress impotent to address their concerns.

In the vacuum that's been left, Wall Street soars and so do  the numbers of the less fortunate as they further descend into poverty.  They find a social safety net with ever widening gaps and an indignant conservative leadership holding the scissors.  Worse, the supposed liberal champions of the downtrodden offer little more than lip service.

Twenty years ago this country was facing similar hurdles but ideology wasn't allowed to completely  trump reason.  The result may not have pleased everyone but at least allowed things to move forward.  Brinksmanship was a threat not a foundation for policymaking. 

Actions have consequences, Isaac Newton knew it and apparently so did Matthew, you know the guy from that book Pat Robertson likes to read out of...

"And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew25-40

By the way, I'm not religious but that last one makes perfect sense to me...


Monday, March 18, 2013

Just Talkin Tech - Episode 4 No Refunds!

It's all about the product or rather what really qualifies as one.  In this episode we're discussing how software companies can sell you a defective product and you have no recourse but to accept it.  It's a casual but spirited conversation where I try to explain the difference between owning something and just having a license to it. 

In the end anything you don't own affords you very few rights when it goes wrong.   The sad fact is when it comes to a "product" you can't hold in your hand like software code or music (CD's are just a medium BTW) you  don't own anything.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Consider your perception


It's an interesting word and about as ambiguous as they come.  If you've ever heard the old phrase about "rose colored glasses" then you've got the general idea.  Our perceptions color our world and help form our personal biases. 

Let's try an example.

Say you're sitting at a table at your favorite lunch spot when a rather large burly man walks through the door.  He's dressed in biker gear, has a few tattoos and looks like he's been on the road for days.  Other than his appearance he offers no clue to his intentions outside of the possible desire to have lunch.

What's the first thing that comes to your mind?  For most  it would probably be a little fear followed by a mental note to find a new lunch spot.  In the end our opinion probably leans toward a less than favorable view of our hungry friend. 

So what if I told you our burly biker guy was actually an esteemed Superior Court judge who happens to be a motorcycle enthusiast...

Your perceptions are affected by societal norms and anything that goes against them causes us alarm.  Depending on how conservative or liberal your social views are will have a direct relationship to your world view.

The problem with perception is that it's based on faulty logic.  We first apply whatever we accept as societal norms, then our own personal biases and with very little additional information render judgment.  And that's where it gets dangerous. 

Marketing is all about perception whether it's trying to convince you that Coke tastes better than Pepsi or one political view is superior to another.    Create a popular enough advertising campaign and you can effect a change in what society finds acceptable with virtually no credible information to support it.

Remember the Romney presidential campaign and all the rhetoric that swirled around about the "takers?"  Into that group went anyone deemed unworthy due to their reliance on public assistance of any kind.  The circumstance that landed you in that position was irrelevant, only the perception mattered.  For the true believers it was black and white and anything in a gray area was considered black. 

Create a label and you're on your way to influencing perception.  Repeat the label enough and it gains power even if it contains no substance.  So if a message could be crafted to sway public opinion against those branded with your new label you could disenfranchise an entire swath of the population.   Especially useful in silencing groups that expose the flaws in your point of view.

Our lives are cluttered with irrelevant noise.  Even the news isn't particularly informative anymore since it's become an entertainment medium.  Entire nations may be plagued by hunger and disease.  Civil rights curtailed by corporate influence and the efforts of many now benefit a privileged few. 

Hey, who cares?  None of that is as interesting as the latest celebrity gossip or news about an upcoming mobile device.  Rampant consumerism and distilled information rule the day.  Our perception of normal has been co-opted and corrupted with nonsense and it extends to more than just our consumer habits.
And there's the danger.  It's easier to consume than to deliberate, especially with so many seemingly important demands for your attention.  We allow someone else's version of reality to dictate our own without even realizing it. 

So the next time you make a snap judgment take a moment to really consider where your opinion comes from.  You may find a truly uncomfortable truth.  One that could alter your perception.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

It's about the content

In this age of digital media  the experts will tell you it's all about the content.  After almost two decades the novelty of the Internet has worn off and what was revolutionary is now the mundane.  Truth be told,  nobody promotes themselves as being online anymore, it's just expected that you are.   

And it seems everybody is.  From your grandmother to multinational corporations the Internet is awash in content.  It happened fast, so fast that traditional media can't keep up with the pace.  Content is no longer limited to a newspaper on your doorstep, a movie in a theater or a program on television.  A fact that the NBC Universals and Disney's of the world can't stand. 

In the 80's the advent of the VCR sent the Motion picture industry into a panic with then MPAA president Jack Valenti proclaiming, "Their (VCR manufacturers) only single mission, their primary mission is to copy coyrighted material that belongs to other people."

 The late 90's saw the music industry decrying the evils of digital music players.  Most notably the case of the RIAA versus DIamond Multimedia.  The RIAA asserted that the simple act of copying music to an MP3 player like the Diamond Rio even when restricted to personal use was a violation of copyright.  Fortunately the courts found it wasn't but the decision wasn't based on a rapidly outmoded copyright law but rather what comprised a recording device.

Succeeding years found both organizations  repeatedly claiming that new consumer friendly technologies threatened the fortunes of the entire entertainment industry. 

Of course history shows that it hasn't but not before decades of legislation had weakened consumer rights and made the whole concept of copyright law deliberately ambiguous. 

The result is an entertainment industry who views the public first as thieves and second as customers.  The concept of "Fair Use" frequently finds itself at odds with the entertainment industry who views any use not explicitly controlled by them as an infringement of copyright. 

For the uninitiated the doctrine of Fair Use is not so much a right (at least in the U.S.) as it is a defense when accused of copyright violation.  It's basically a four step criteria to measure whether use of copyrighted work is eligible for exemption from copyright law.  Generally the rule is that Fair Use applies to non-commercial or educational uses or commercial uses that can be shown to not diminish the original work.  There's more than enough room for interpretation, however, and that's frequently decided in favor of the copyright holder.

Which translates to a virtual flip of the coin any time your use of alleged copyrighted material strays into new territory. 

For example, upload a family holiday video to YouTube and you could find yourself on the receiving end of a copyright complaint if ol' Blue Eyes(Frank Sinatra) happens to be belting out  Silent Night in the background.  Even if you make the video private and accessible only to your family and not the general public you can still be considered in violation of copyright.

What's the definition of original content anyway?

 You may do a weekly video podcast but if anything in your video displays an element someone claims as copyrighted material you've suddenly lost your right to monetization under YouTube's rules at the least.   At the worst you can find your video removed and receive a "copyright strike." Too many of those and YouTube will close your account.

More than just an annoyance the entertainment industry has engaged in legal intimidation in an effort to protect an outdated content model.  Is there really a threat to a copyright holder's interest if someone uses a clip from their content in an entirely unrelated work?

What if you just want to make fun of copyrighted but publicly available content?  If so is it considered a parody or a satire?  Hint: One is covered by "Fair Use" the other isn't.   Most people don't even know there's  a difference but under copyright law there is. 

Even the alleged "New Media" succumbs to the pressure of the old guard.  When the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)was signed into law in 1998 savvy ISP's lobbied for some degree of immunity by way of the "safe harbor."

They saw a future rife with litigation for simply operating a medium and wanted no part of it.  Safe Harbor holds ISP's and later content hosting services like YouTube  harmless in any copyright infringement claim.  So long as they don't actively participate in the infringement they get a pass.  Unfortunately content creators who run afoul of the DMCA have no such protections and have to rely on Fair Use defenses.

Now a bewildered public is forced to learn about words like "transformative"," derivative" and "Fair Use." 

And to think that all you wanted to do was to share a holiday memory with grandma on YouTube.

These are questions we shouldn't have to answer in a creative society.  The history of mankind is built upon the creative output of those that came before.  Without the wheel, for instance, there would be no automobiles  and transportation on the whole would be a very different if not inefficient proposition.

So should someone have patented the concept of a cylindrical object for the purpose of rotating around an axis ?   Perhaps but it should never have been expected to exist in perpetuity.  If such a patent existed it's entirely possible, for example, that we'd be controlling the direction of our cars with levers instead of that familiar direction control device we know as a steering wheel

The holder of the patent (or copyright) could prevent any use not explicitly under their control which would include anything that resembled or made reference to the wheel product.

That sounds ridiculous but is exactly what is happening with copyright law now.  No reasonable person would deny anyone the right to profit from their efforts .  The problem arises when protection of those rights subverts the very innovation that copyright sought to protect. 

Even if you never run afoul of someone else's copyright you still suffer the consequences. 
Why, for example, in an age of almost instantaneous access to information do we still have artificial limits placed on how we consume media?  The entertainment industry would argue that there's a minimum period of time necessary to protect their revenue potential.

That argument ignores the revenue potential afforded by alternate modes of content delivery.  A friend of mine recently posed a question to me.  He said, " Why do I have to wait months for a new movie to be available somewhere other than a movie theater?"

You know, I have to agree.  He brought up the fact that many people have home theater systems that could offer an excellent viewing experience.  To me, I'd rather see a new movie in the theater and I'm sure I'm not alone.  Nonetheless, I shouldn't be denied the option.

Seeing a movie in a theater is a "premium" experience and I'm willing to pay more for it.  However,  I'm not willing to support a business model rooted in the middle of the last century to get it.  There was a time when the only way to see a  first run movie was at a theater.  That's hasn't been the case for a decade now.  It's not about the technology it's about revenue.

There are very few cases where a 50 year old business model is relevant to contemporary markets but the industry doesn't it see it that way.

In some cases new entertainment content will go straight to online sources like YouTube, direct to DVD or even services like NetFlix.  So with alternate delivery mechanisms available do we really need so many theaters?

Should we be limiting our entertainment options based on nothing more than propping up an industry that refuses to respond to a new market dynamic?

I'd rather have a few really great theaters offering a superior experience than a lesser one from a business model that's groaning under its own weight. 

Remember we're still  talking about restricting content here.  In some cases, your content if someone deems it a threat to their copyright.  We're also talking about restricting your choices.  The least of which is your opportunity to use content  any way you wish

I've never been a fan of change for its own sake but when it comes to copyrights I don't have to betray that rule because change desperately needs to happen.