Reading Review #2

I’d prefer to publish these weekly, but last weekend found me without enough time to do this. I’ll try better in the forthcoming weeks.

I’ve split this review into two sections: technical and general reading. There’s not always a strict division between the two, but I find it helpful to keep them separate.

General Reading

Racist Violence and Incitement Against Refugees Explodes Across Germany

This is a tough read.

One thing that’s impossible not to notice these days in German media is the rise of Orientalist cliches about young men from the Middle East or Central Asia as backward barbarians who do not know how to behave around women. We are told that their culture, their religion and their patriarchal background makes them this way. It seems that many people believe that these men could not live in harmony with so called European or Western "values".

One could say the same thing about American media as well. Nor, in my opinion, is this kind of rhetoric isolated to conservative media.

On Showing Up to the Table via Twitter

This is a really, really great read. I plan to follow the author in the future. In particular, the following call to action at the end spot on (emphasis mine):

Men, I want to talk to you for a minute now. I want you to think about the meetings that you’re in, the tables that you sit at, and I want you to count how many of the people sitting at those tables are people like you. Don’t just estimate – actually count. If you find that the majority of people present look like you, I want you to ask yourself why that is. See if you can find an answer that doesn’t involve the word “pipeline”. The answers you come up with will probably make you a little uncomfortable, and that’s fine.

Self-invention! Or: We do tech — tech doesn’t do us via the Wordyard about page

[M]ostly, the public debate on digital identity is stuck in a polarized argument. Advocates of transparency and single identity maintain that a one-person, one-name, one-identity world creates trust and holds us accountable to one another. Believers in anonymity and multiple identities argue that masks and veils can free our voices, liberate us to be playful and vulnerable, and let us speak truth to power.

Both camps urge us to “be ourselves.” But they arrive at opposite conclusions.

The idea of “authenticity” and “being one’s self” is part of what has got me interested in blogging again. Blogging to me seems a much more humane way of doing social on the Internet.

The title of this one reminds me of Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget (which I’ve only half read). (Disclaimer: I don’t necessarily agree with Lanier’s basic thesis in that book—what I understand of it anyway, but there’s definitely something there.)

Whispers and cries: The anonymous-app short-cut to intimacy is a dead end

More, related to the ideas of authenticity (emphasis in the original):

Both Whisper and Secret have emerged as reactions against the artificial gloss of self-presentation on Facebook. On Facebook, we tend to censor all but the most positive version of our lives. The founders of Whisper and Secret explicitly aim to provide us with a new stage on which we are free to expose more of ourselves, warts and all — and we don’t even have to admit that they’re, you know, our warts.

Links: Twitter trolls, data doppelgangers, Obama anon

A list of links from Wordyard.

Should Millennials Get Over Bernie Sanders? via this

An absolutely terrible piece of political “analysis.”

Two days later, a follow-up piece was posted by Corey Robin who is an author and professor of political science:

90% of what goes on at The New Yorker can be explained by Vulgar Marxism via this

I wasn’t defending terrible behavior, but I understand why it seemed that way. via Twitter

Wil Wheaton raised the ire of Twitter again. In this case he felt the need to apologize. The piece is well written and probably warranted. That said, I have mixed feelings about it: the 140-character limit is probably more to blame than anything Wil actually said.

Germany is getting closer to nuclear fusion via The Loop

The Dark Origins Of Valentine's Day via The Loop

Before You Get Too Excited About That GitHub Study via Twitter

The study can be found here. I read it a couple of days ago; my main problem was how it was being reported. The study never claims that women are per se better programmers than men (most headlines I saw read that way), but that due to the lower survivorship rate of women in tech, those women who remain are generally more skilled than most men in tech. To put it another way: men in tech are mostly mediocre compared to women in tech. To me saying the study shows that “women are better programmers” is to downplay the actual sad truth of the perils of being a woman in tech.

That said, the author of the linked critique of the study makes some good points:

The paper concludes that “for insiders…we see little evidence of bias…for outsiders, we see evidence of gender bias: women’s acceptance rates are 71.8% when they use gender neutral profiles, but drop to 62.5% when their gender is identifiable. There is a similar drop for men, but the effect is not as strong.”

In other words, they conclude there is gender bias among outsiders because obvious-women do worse than gender-anonymized-women. They admit that obvious-men also do worse than gender-anonymized men, but they ignore this effect because it’s smaller. They do not report doing a test of statistical significance on whether it is really smaller or not.

Farther down the page (emphasis mine),

The study describes its main finding as being that women have fewer requests approved when their gender is known. It hides on page 16 that men also have fewer requests approved when their gender is known. It describes the effect for women as larger, but does not report the size of the male effects, nor whether the difference is statistically significant.

Technical Reading

The Joy of Shortcuts via Marco

I never did look into Parse, though I have a vague memory of it being touted as the Next Great Thing™. Now, it’s being shut down. It’s moments like these I’m glad I have a more conservative mindset about technologies I employ. I’d like to think it’s because I’m super smart or something, but in reality, it’s just because I don’t have enough head-space for learning about each new thing. Even so, I think there’s much to be said in favor of taking a more conservative approach to these things. That doesn’t mean, however, one shouldn’t at least experiment with new technologies. At worst, they might provide an insight into new ways of doing things with the old stable technologies; at best, you learn a marketable skill. I need to work better at learning new things.

#13: External Dependencies

The Under the Radar podcast with Marco Arment and David Smith, discusses the issue of application dependencies in light of the Parse shutdown.

Fix the versioning via this via this via this

Apparently, SemVer is controversial? I didn’t know that. The only problem it’s ever caused me is people not following it. From the link (emphasis mine):

Ultimately, SemVer is a false promise that appeals to many developers — the promise of pain-free, don't-have-to-think-about-it, updates to dependencies. But it simply isn't true.

This feels like a straw-man to me. The purpose of SemVer is not to be a guarantee of pain-free updates, but to mitigate the often inevitable pain of updating.

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