Diversity Technology

Open Arms

Regarding the recent Golden Gate Ruby Conference…

Sara Allan

The second low point was Matt Aimonetti’s talk “CouchDB + Ruby: Perform Like a Pr0n Star.” It is unfortunate that he took this joke too far. What might have been a short, juvenille, eye-rolling bit of humor continued throughout the talk to become increasingly disturbing. Amidst this normally warm, welcoming community, I spent an uncomfortable half hour wondering if I had somehow found myself in 1975.

If he had left it at a few introductory jokes, I would be writing a very different post. Instead 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.

Audrey Eschright

Here’s another problem in this tangle: Ruby (and Rails in particular) loves the rock star image. You see it in job posts, how people talk about their work, and the way Rubyists rant on their blogs. It’s macho, it can be offputting to both genders, and it makes it easy in this kind of situation to say, “what’s your problem? I’m just busy being awesome”. It’s also a significant barrier to adoption for people who aren’t already a part of this culture, and don’t find it appealing.

Mike Gunderloy

For what it’s worth, I think the original presentation was an inappropriate and regrettable mistake. However, far more disturbing to me are the reactions to the discussion on the part of some of the Rails community.

Folks, the idea that women are disproportionately underrepresented in engineering and software in general, and open source development in particular, should not be new and controversial in 2009 – anyone who cares to look can find such things as the FLOSSpols findings, or any amount of academic literature on the subject. Anyone who cares to take the time to actually talk to the women who are a part of the open source community will have no trouble getting an earful about how challenging it can be to participate.

But unfortunately for me, in parallel to the public discussion there have been private ones. I can’t reveal details without breaking confidences, but suffice it to say that a significant number of Rails core contributors – with leadership (if that’s the right word) from DHH – apparently feel that being unwelcoming and “edgy” is not just acceptable, but laudable. The difference between their opinions and mine is so severe that I cannot in good conscience remain a public spokesman for Rails.

Victoria Wang, in comments

DHH’s attitude seems to say that the more we lower ourselves to the most base level of marketing scum in the name of entertainment, the better, even if at the end of the day there are no more women, or anyone worth knowing, in the room. It kind of makes me want to never touch Rails code again.

Rev Dan, in comments

What chaps my ass about the whole thing is that it’s doing little more but reinforce the bullshit “developers are immature, overgrown 14-year-olds” stereotype. I’m sick to death of that one, especially because I run into that type of jackass more often than I care to.

We kinda have a “chicken and egg” scenario going on here… unless there are more women who attend these things then the few women who do will always feel like outsiders… but if the few women who attend now are offended, then why will more attend?

Matt Aimonetti’s response

In the case of my talk, people knew what to expect, they *picked* the talk, and were warned by the organizers before I started that I would be using imagery potentially offensive to some. The topic of my talk was obvious, and I would have hoped that people who were likely to be offended would have simply chosen not to attend my talk or read my slides on the internet. It’s like complaining that television has too much material unsuitable for children, yet not taking steps to limit their viewing of it. You can’t have it both ways.

We can argue forever about morals, professionalism, ethics, respect, etc., though this is all a distraction from the real problem that was raised by Sarah, namely that we have very few minorities in the Ruby community, especially women. Minorities do need to be more represented!

Ryan Bigg

I fear that it will rip a community apart. A community that should be working together on getting past this issue and bettering themselves, not regressing to childish bickering. That’s what gives this community an “immature” stamp by the [insert other programming language here] groups.

All I ask for you guys is to…


Sho Fukamachi

Other reactions include pathetic “I am being victimised” attention-seeking, lame attempts at demonstrating how much “I truly care about women” etc, hilarious “I am leaving the Ruby community and re-installing Visual Studio” threats (please do!), and every combination thereof. I cannot help but think that if Matt’s presentation has the effect of getting rid of these disingenuous wowsers then he should henceforth be invited, nay required, to present at every Rails conference.

DHH, the father of Rails

But wait…there’s more…

Alpha Male Programmers aren’t keeping Women Out

You certainly have to be mindful when you’re working near the edge of social conventions, but that doesn’t for a second lead me to the conclusion that we should step away from all the edges. Finding exactly where the line goes — and then enjoying the performance from being right on it — requires a few steps over it here and there.


Excellent aggregation of opinions from women in the Ruby/Rails community. Particularly liked Amy Hoy’s take in comments

If you are going to try to be edgy and push boundaries and shit, you should at least be sure you’re good at it and know how to handle that kind of content, first. Otherwise, it’s just destructive.

JavaScript Technology

Sun sells out and there goes Java and MySQL

I guess I will now be looking at how to port my Drupal installations to PostGreSQL, since Sun sold out to Oracle. The Java issue doesn’t impact me, as I saw the writing on the wall as regards to Java a long time ago.

However, support for MySQL will most likely be completely undercut, if not eliminated. Or it will go through that fine Oracle touch, which means you can’t depend on support for the database in the future—not without it being either bloated, or “monetized” in some way. This is how Oracle works.

I can hear it now: But MySQL is open source. Oracle can’t hurt it, because it’s open source!

Being “open source” will protect MySQL. Yeah, right. And I believe I’m Superwoman and can’t be hurt by bullets, so just shoot me now.

I completely forgot about Sun and OpenOffice. I use OpenOffice for all of my writing. Guess I can kiss that good-bye, too.

I’d like to just kick IBM right now, for transmorphing back into the stupid, clumsy Big Blue dinosaur of days of yore. It let itself down, by not buying Sun. And it let the rest of us down, too.

Interesting reading the old post on Sun buying MySQL AB, from last year.

I think Sun is the best possible buyer, because of the following reasons: (Note that this is of course my interpretation)

  • Sun is committed to open source.
  • Sun doesn’t have an database of their own; In other words, no risk of internal conflicts between similar products.
  • Sun understands what it means to be a virtual company where people work from home.
  • Sun has a good understanding of developers needs and there is a good chance that the integration of the two companies will be relative smooth.
  • Sun has said they will let the MySQL developers continue work as before in their own unit and without big changes (except of course changes for the better!).

Of course, the early founder of MySQL left Sun, and started another open source MySQL company. We’ll see where this goes.

Last update, but the original founder of MySQL, Michael Widenius, has posted a note on the Oracle/Sun merger and MySQL.

The biggest threat to MySQL future is not Oracle per se, but that the MySQL talent at Sun will spread like the wind and go to a lot of different companies which will set the MySQL development and support back years.

I would not like to see this happen and I am doing everything I can do to keep this talent pool together (after all, most of them are long time personal friends of mine). I am prepared to hire or find a good home (either at Monty Program Ab or close to it) for all core MySQL personnel.

The man is probably inundated with resumes right now.

Copyright Writing

My DRM-free self

O’Reilly now has DRM free versions of some of its book available for the Kindle. Among the books are my own Painting the WebLearning JavaScript, second editionPractical RDF, and Adding Ajax.

O’Reilly has been offering DRM free versions of the books at the O’Reilly site, but it’s only been lately that authors have been able to provide DRM free books at Amazon. Why is this important? Because all you have to do is change the book’s extension to .mobi to read the book on your Sony or other MobiPocket capable eBook reader. In other words: Some Amazon store books can be read on other eBook readers other than the Kindle, iPhone, and iTouch.

Teleread and MobileRead have started a campaign to make these DRM free books more easy to find. If a book is DRM free, just tag it “drmfree” at the Amazon site. It tickled me to be the first to tag my own books.

My books being offered DRM free doesn’t change how I feel about copyright. I still believe in the importance of copyrights. My books are still copyrighted, at least until the publishers and I decide the time is ripe to release them into the public domain. I am dependent on the royalties I make from my books, and I lose money through piracy of my books. But I have never believed in DRM, which only hurts the legitimate owners.

I’m currently working on my first self-publishing book, which I’ll be releasing as a Kindle, as well as in other formats. Regardless of how I distribute the book, not one version of the book will have DRM.

Just Shelley

Beauty is in the eye

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Boing Boing re-published a photo found on Flickr of a hairless male chimp at the Mysore Zoo in India.

hairless chimp

Chances are this chimp suffered from the same hereditary disease that Cinder, the chimp who recently died at the St. Louis zoo, did: alopecia universalis. The condition is rare among chimps, so I’m not surprised that people aren’t aware of what the chimp was suffering from. I was surprised, though at the reaction of the Boing Boing author, a person who is supposedly a science writer.

I am so sorry.

I ran across this image while searching for something to illustrate that last post and just can’t not share it.

Again. My apologies. Rest assured, I’m going to have nightmares tonight, too. We’re all in this together.

I would have expected some discomfort from some folk. After all, Cinder was once featured at Ugly Overload. But I also would have expected a science writer to be more fascinated by the chimp’s physiology, then repelled. Or to note his similarity to humans, as PZ Myers noted. I didn’t expect someone with a scientific background to go, “Ewww. Ugggi!”

I was also a little surprised to read Short, Sharp Science’s take on the photo: that the chimp is suffering from chimpsploitation.

But unless the poor animal is naturally bald, it seems that he is suffering from stress-related hair loss. From the expression on his face (and it is obviously a male) he doesn’t looks like he’s the most well-adjusted of animals. It’s sure to spark more arguments about the welfare of animals in captivity.

It’s true that hairless chimps are rare, but a single search of “hairless chimp” in Google returns thousands of references to our Cinder, and other hairless chimps. We need to be careful about reading our biases into interpretation of photos, particularly so if we call ourselves “scientists”.

For instance, as to the charge of chimpsloitation of this hairless chimp, The Mysore Zoo in India is one of the oldest in the world, and the most popular in India. It did have problems a few years back, when a new Zoo administration eliminated corrupt practices, and several employees exacted revenge by poisoning several animals. In addition, the training of some of its personnel can be deficient, the result of which cost the life of a tigress and another female elephant. However, it is not a “bad” zoo, if we think of bad zoos as those miserable roadside attractions that occur all too frequently in the US. The Mysore Zoo just reflects the multi-cultural environment that makes up today’s India.

I am glad to have seen these stories, as I’ve been trying to track other hairless chimps. I wish, though, that people would see beyond the “difference” of these hairless chimps—to admire their musculature, and accept our common heritage. And to answer another frequently posted question about hairless chimps: chimps are born with pale skin that tans to a darker shade as they are exposed to the sun.

Social Media Web

My abbreviated self

I discovered that a URL has to be less than 30 characters, or Twitter automatically creates a Tinyurl version of the URL. This, even if the entire message is less than 140 characters.

There’s no way I can create URLs that are less than 30 character and still maintain my subdomain designations. Therefore I’m not going to try, and will most likely be removing any short URL stuff here. With all the recent “one million followers” foo flah, including the breathless designation that one person achieving one million Twitter followers is equivalent to landing a man on the moon and space flight, in scientific importance, I would just as soon stick with stodgy old weblogging.

Weblogging, where no one really knows how many people are following you, most people don’t care, we can actually communicate complete thoughts, and do what we want with our URLs.

From today’s WhatWG IRC:

hsivonen: I can imagine all sorts of blog posts about evil HTML5 raining on the rev=canonical backpattery parade

svl: Mostly (from what I’ve seen) it’s been “let’s all use this en-masse, so html5 will be forced to include this”.

Of all the items in contention with the HTML5 working group, the use of rev=canonical is not high on my list. Why? Because there’s no real argument for it’s use, and a lot of good arguments against its use, and it’s just as easy to use something else.

This all came about because Twitter was built first, designed later. One of the difficulties to keeping a message to 140 characters is that URLs can take 140 characters, and more. Yet there is no URL shortening mechanism built into Twitter. Not only is there no URL shortening mechanism built into Twitter, Twitter, itself, uses another, 3rd party, service:

Now, all of a sudden, people are in a dead cold panic about using a service that may go away, leaving link rot in Twitter archives. I hate to break it to the folks so worried, but it will probably be a cold day in hell before anyone digs into Twitter archives. Most of us can’t keep up with the stream of tweets we get today, much less worry about yesterday’s or last week’s.

But there are a lot of other problems associated with using a 3rd party service. Problems such as the recent Twitter follies, otherwise known as Twitter Been Hacked, that ended up being a not particularly fun Easter Egg this weekend. When you click on a Tinyurl URL, you don’t know what you’re going to get, where you’re going, or worse, what will happen to you when you get there. Even Kierkegaard would have a problem with this leap of faith.

There’s also an issue with search engine link credit, not to mention everyone using different URL shortening services so you can’t tell if someone has referenced one of your posts in Twitter, or not. This didn’t use to be a problem, but since everyone does most of their linking in Twitter now, it gets mighty quiet in these here parts. You might think, sigh, no one likes what you’re doing, only to find out that a bunch of people have come to your party, but the party’s been moved to a different address.

So I think we can agree that third party URL services may not be the best of ideas. I, personally, like that we provide our own URL shorteners. Not only would we get the search engine credit, it should encourage the use of the same URL in Twitter, which might help us find the party we lost. Plus, wouldn’t you rather click a link that has in it, then one that has Implementation of our own short URLs should be simple in this day and age of content management systems. All we need to do is agree on a form.

Agree? Did someone say, agree?

As I wrote earlier, I’ve heard too many good arguments against rev=canonical, including the fact it’s too easy to make a typo and write rev=canonical, when we mean rel=canonical, and vice versa. In addition, rel is in HTML5, rev is not, and I’m not going to hammer a stake in the ground over rel/rev. I’m keeping my stakes for things that are important to me.

Note to HTML5 WG: she has a hammer. And stakes.

As for what attribute value to use with rel, whether it’s shortlink or shorturl or just plain short, I don’t care. I took about five minutes to implement shortlink in this space. I implemented shortlink, because this is the option currently listed in the rel attribute wiki page. However, it would only take about a minute to change to shorturl. I even added the short link to the bottom of my posts, which can be copied manually and used to paste into a Twitter post, if you’re so inclined. See, I don’t have to wait for anyone’s approval; I am empowered by Happy Typing Fingers.

Regardless of what we do, I agree with Aristotle: way too much effort on something that should be easy to decide, quick to implement, giving us time to worry about things that are important in HTML5. Things such as SVG, RDFa, and accessibility.

Other discussions related to rel/rev/tiny:

And that’s my 4424 character take on tiny URLs.

Another reason tiny URLs are getting attention is because of the evil new DiggBar. Goodness gracious, people, why on earth do you use crap like this?