Bullies and Bystanders

If your reader feeds mostly consist of echo chamber walls, you probably don’t know that one of the more prominent Appleverse podcasts, Angry Mac Bastards, has recently went off the air, so to speak. (Admittedly I have been away from this corner of the internet for a while now, so the news may just be news to me.) The absence of this news is especially curious for sites like The Loop, which has been associated with the podcast, at least in the past.

Rewind a little. Here is my initial reaction a while back on my first (and last) listen to Angry Mac Bastards:

Fastforward back to now. Here is the incident that led to Angry Mac Bastards’ demise. Basically, they cyberbullied a developer named Aaron Vegh for… I’m not sure why. Here is an except from the segment:

Darby: Well I think you can sum up this Aaron Vegh’s, just the whole thing, just at the very beginning of his, ah, Hire Me web site. It says “Hi I’m Aaron, I’m the nerd you’re looking for. I’m a programmer ready to take on the next big challenge of my career. I’ve written a book, shipped two iOS apps, started my own web development firm, and worked for The Man. I’ve taken the chance on a startup, and I’ve started a magazine, though that one didn’t work out so well.” You know, this, this, this… there’s a picture of this fucker in a, if the gamma on your monitor is fucked you’ll think it’s a turtle neck it looks to be some kind of zip-up fleece performance job.

John: Thing.

Darby: You know, bagging on people’s personal looks is kinda low, but he’s got hair that’s been Photoshop’d on, your standard three-quarter turn, arms crossed, head slightly nodded, stock photo, “I am wise beyond your knowledge” uh gaze at you. Like John you were saying it’s just everything about this derp sums up that he’s the last person that anyone wants to hire, and (laughing) we spent so long talking about some poor fucking homeless guy that we’re slagging this poor chump’s attempting to get a job, but he’s done it so badly, it’s just disturbing.

And the response to the aftermath? Well, John C. Welch (that’s the “John” above) has apparently closed down not only Angry Mac Bastards, but also his website and Twitter account too. A non-apology apology remains in the internet archive though:

Fighting the Internet Outrage Machine isn’t worth it. It’s not worth the headache it will cause our sponsors, it’s not worth the headache it will cause our families. Our families don’t deserve that kind of crap.

There is just too much irony there to analyze fully. Let’s move on.

Even worse are reactions like Harry Marks‘s (Marks is, of course, a noted fan of the podcast):

They took apart a developer’s website in a mean-spirited and childish way, not unlike how they’ve torn apart bad tech writers over the last four years. Yes, they’ve been doing this for four years, but now suddenly it’s a problem.

That’s where defenders of Angry Mac Bastards are wrong. It is not only a problem now, suddenly. It has always been a problem. Unfortunately, too many of us bystanders simply watched and let the cyberbullying continue. And, worst of all, the people who actually listened to the podcast and its sponsors encouraged and enabled the continuing cyberbullying.

Honestly, we can all use some bystander intervention training. The first step is to name and acknowledge the offense, and not just in some excusable non-apology apology way. Blaming the response on the amorphous Internet Outrage Machine, despite the copious uses of capitals, is pretty much the opposite of that.

Yes, we might not do it consistently. But avoiding a hypocrisy charge at the cost of complacency is a really bad reason to let behaviors like AMB’s go on. Start somewhere.

(Needless to say, I have no problem with people criticizing arguments and positions, even in harsh terms. That’s not what Angry Mac Bastards do.)

Feel free to talk to me on Twitter: @RagingTBolt.

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Distraction-Free Browsing

There are too many apps and posts about distraction-free writing. But what about distraction-free browsing?

If you’ve been longing for the days when you can read Daring Fireball without the annoyance of a browser menubar, help is here — in the form of a guest post from a reader who I’ll call “Dustin”.

0. install Firefox
1. install the latest nightly of Pentadactyl
2. type :se go=s
3. type :se showtabline=never
4. type :sty -A * .menulist-dropmarker,scrollbar{display:none;}
5. type :sty * #browser{margin:0 -1px;} #browser-bottombox{border:0!important;} #dactyl-completions-dactyl-statusline-field-commandline{border-top:0!important;}

Happy distraction-free browsing!

An Audacious Proposal: Parity VC

A modest proposal is one that is so absurd that no one should want to implement it. An audacious proposal is one that is so reasonable that everyone should want to implement it, but still no one is doing so. I have an audacious proposal.

Starting Point 1: Silicon Valley’s diversity problem. This problem has been well documented. In fact, it is so bad that CNN Money had a hard time getting any straight data from some of the biggest tech companies like Apple and Google. Despite some valiant efforts, the problem remains as glaring as ever.

Starting Point 2: Morgan Stanley’s new investment initiative. As the New York Times reports,

Morgan Stanley’s wealth management division is starting a new portfolio which seeks to invest in companies that have demonstrated a commitment to including women on their corporate boards. The strategy, known as the parity portfolio, is scheduled to get going on April 1.

In a report last summer, Credit Suisse’s research institute found that over a six-year period, companies with “at least some” women on their boards did better, in terms of share price, than those with none.

[…] The strategy seeks to encourage companies to think deeply about the gender makeup of their boards. Only companies with at least three women board members will be included in the portfolio.

Why couldn’t there be something similar in tech?

My Audacious Proposal: An analogous parity venture capital fund that only funds startups with a diverse makeup. Of course, there can be reasonable disagreements about how to best operationalize the requirement. Perhaps it means that at least 50% of the founders need to be women. Perhaps it means that at least 40% of the engineers need to be women or other underrepresented minorities. Let us not quibble about detail for now.

A parity venture capital fund is potentially good business too. Morgan Stanley is no charity; there is a clear economic motivation behind its new initiative. There is some, though by no means conclusive, evidence that boards with some women simply perform better. Similarly, given what we know about gender and race’s power to bias people’s evaluations (previously discussed on this blog), it would be unsurprising if it turned out that startups with a diverse makeup are currently systematically overlooked. A parity venture capital fund would then be in a perfect position to exploit this market inefficiency.

So what say you, angels of the world?

(Or maybe the white dudes can all pitch before lunch?)

Feel free to talk to me on Twitter: @RagingTBolt.

Thoughts about the Death of Google Reader

Because everyone on the internet has got to write one, right? Google’s official announcement is here.

  • There seems to be some confusion about who the users of Google Reader are. They’re not just “tech” people, whatever that means. They’re infovores — people who just love to consume content. That group includes some tech people (but not others), and also many academics and journalists, among others.
  • Aside: What is going to happen to all the RSS sponsorship deals? I know that RSS will live on, but you have to wonder about the audience numbers.
  • On Quora, Brian Shih (former Google Reader product manager) gives an opinionated but informative overview of the history of Google Reader and why it had to die.
  • Like many others, I’m investigating alternatives. I switched to The Old Reader briefly, a while back, but found its RSS crawling wanting. I’m no engineer, but I can’t imagine doing crawling and syncing at scale is all that easy. That’ll be the number one challenge for Google Reader replacements.
  • Speaking of replacements, here are some that I’ve come across and will be trying: the aforementioned The Old Reader, Newsblur (which seems overwhelmed right now), Feedly (which promises a “seamless transition”), Fever (which is not for the non-tech infovores)… others?
  • Even if some of these alternatives end up flourishing, I’m afraid we’ll never get back the golden age of Google Reader, when social tools like sharing and commenting were in full effect. The joy of consuming content together is only possible when other people are on the same platform. For me, what was great about Google Reader is that I can talk tech with tech people, politics with politics people, and so on. The inevitable fragmentation after the death of Google Reader will make consuming content together practically impossible for a long time. Best case scenario is that we get little enclaves for different topics.

Feel free to talk to me on Twitter: @RagingTBolt.

Crash

The Awl presents a ravenous evisceration of that movie that most deserves ravenous evisceration–Crash. Just a few highlights:

It’s a neoliberal shitshow. Its moral being: if individuals stop being racist or, more specifically, stop committing egregiously racist acts, like acts that even your five-year-old cousin can identify as racist, then VOILA, racism is gone. And then there’s certainly no need for systemic change, or consideration of how systemic inequity has perpetuated racism between individuals.

Crash is one of those movies that when someone says it’s one of their favorites, I have no choice but to dislike them.

Crash fans also wade into the comments of news articles to take issue with referring to George Zimmerman as a murderer because “we don’t have all the facts yet” and pride themselves on their objectivity. Related: I am a monster.

Honestly, there are too many golden lines to blockquote. Go read it. I can only hope my writing will one day live up to these heights. (My only disappointment is somehow the authors failed to work in a David Brooks putdown. Too easy?)

You’re the Product: A Logic Lesson

It’s the internet’s favorite refrain:

If You’re Not Paying for It, You’re the Product

The latest person to repeat it: Andrew Sullivan, who is now asking for $20/year for his blog. Although he never quite says this explicitly, the insinuation seems to be that if you pay for his blog, then you won’t be the product. Sully is probably not the only one who thinks this.

Unfortunately for Sully, logic disagrees with him. Yes, it logically follows that you’re the product for things you don’t pay for, like Facebook and Twitter. But it does not logically follow that you’re not the product for things you do pay for, like Sully’s blog.

The fallacy that Sully commits is called denying the antecedent. As Wikipedia, everyone’s go-to logician, says:

One way to demonstrate the invalidity of this argument form is with a counterexample with true premises but an obviously false conclusion. For example:

  • If Queen Elizabeth is an American citizen, then she is a human being.
  • Queen Elizabeth is not an American citizen.
  • Therefore, Queen Elizabeth is not a human being.

That argument is obviously bad, but arguments of the same form can sometimes seem superficially convincing.

As the Wason selection task shows, we human beings are not so great at conditional reasoning. We are prone to making logical mistakes like denying the antecedent. It’s perhaps not too surprising that we make this mistake when we talk about business models for blogging or whatever. But it’s time to stop, for logic’s sake.

Feel free to talk to me on Twitter: @RagingTBolt.

Fire Joe Morgan and Me

If I were to describe this blog in a pseudorandom sequence of words and punctuations, it would be: Fire Joe Morgan wannabe, but for tech, minus the funny.

To understand what that means, you’d have to know what Fire Joe Morgan is. Lucky for you, The Classical has just released a series of interviews with the Fire Joe Morgan guys on Fire Joe Morgan:

It is almost certainly the second best oral history of the year. (The best being, of course, the one on Freaks and Geeks.) There are so many good quotes, but here are two that are most relevant to why I write this blog (albeit rather infrequently).

the site became a little bit of … not only a defense of nerds in general and math in general and nerds in general and post-Francis Baconian thinking […] Let’s look at evidence, let’s use reason and logic. That’s all we’re asking, in some way.

Tech writing seems to be at where baseball writing was 16 years ago and where political writing was 4 years ago. There are plenty of opinions, but they seem to be rarely backed up by reasons — at least not good reasons. So one can still say 3.5-inch is the perfect size without considering variations in human physiology. And one can still say there is a paradox of choice without minimally consulting the empirical evidence. I am a nerd who gets defensive. I like evidence, and math, and reason, and logic.

I remember feeling that it was important to us that people knew that this was not a money-making venture for us. It was, like, a weird thing that we were just doing to do it. […] It was just for fun. That’s why it was fun, is because it was just for fun.

The last bit is very important to me. People have been (rightly) disparaging pageview journalism lately (again?). But the alternative commercial model I see — call it engagement writing — looks to be no better. (More on this in a future post, I hope.) So fuck commercial. If you have $5 / month to spare, put in a recurring donation to Against Malaria. Don’t give it to me, or to any other tech writer. Send me the Against Malaria receipts, if you want to make me happy.

Feel free to talk to me on Twitter: @RagingTBolt.