Beyond the Boston Women’s March for America

My brave, introverted wife marched yesterday in Boston while I took the kids to the park and cleaned up the house. It’s the least we both could do.

After a political turnover that can only be compared to falling down a rabbit hole and ending up back in the 50s in a communist Russia run by a crotchety, ignorant oompa loopa, this is what America has come to. Some of our most intelligent, kind, and confident people having to protest for freedom, upholding basic human rights, and against bigotry.

America: So Bad, Even Introverts Rally

I am my wife’s husband. We are very different. The way she recharges is to stay in doors and knit something. I like to stay out late and meet new people. But that’s what she did yesterday. She went with an extroverted friend and surrounded herself with 110,000 other people because involvement matters. She hugged a college student and they both started crying together in public.

That’s why she’s brave in my book, because in her book these kinds of extroverted things don’t happen, but they do when it matters.

Since I wasn’t there, I didn’t get to see city residents supporting the cause from their windows stories above the march. All my worst fears after the Boston marathon bombing were unnecessary because there was not a single reported negative incident. Service vehicles that blocked off the streets from traffic honked their horns in solidarity as people proudly walked by…that’s what my wife came back with, a story of hope and meaning.

After over a year of thinking about what lead up to this, I would like to offer a few thoughts, and one big suggestion.

Leaders who actually lead deserve our attention

Most of our current representative government is awful. They’re just awful. Both sides, but what I really mean by ‘most sides’ is most of the majority side.

What other options to we have? Let’s recap.

Elisabeth Warren takes to task any politician who practices corruption, champions education and equality, or supports the subjugation of others. Why the fuck isn’t she our president already? The short answer is that for all her rights, America is still so sexist (even women) and she’s so left that it would be hard to expect a majority of voters not to mention our current political complex to accept her…

…but oh wait, Washington just elected the Actual Antichrist (if you believe in that sort of hoo haw), so I guess it’s entirely possible to get a left-wing presidential candidate who is overqualified and underrepresented elected in 2020. Let’s focus our party efforts to do just that.

Or how about Bernie Sanders, the candidate that we the people never got the chance to vote for. During protests across the world yesterday against This Desolation Presidency, our Bern spoke out for human rights in his home state.

Are you kidding me? I actually feel a little mentally disabled when I think about how this guy lost in a race against Fat-Fingers McGrabspussy. Are we blind, deaf, dumb, stupid, or all of the above for not giving him an oval room to run the free world?

If a majority of white America can’t yet accept that a women should truly be leading us as a global power at this point, then Sanders was the most obvious and amenable solution to our current State of Bias.

Accept and move beyond our mistakes

We can’t ignore our mistakes without being doomed to make them again.

The Democratic party gambled on a risky political figurehead and lost BIG. There was enough time and examples of Russian-colluding rhetoric before the primaries to expect that the presidential race would be fought dirty, and picking a candidate carrying so many possible vectors of attack was a poor choice no matter how progressive or technically qualified they were.

DNC leadership failed not only its constituents, but all of America by driving the Republican party to put up such poor choice traditional candidates such as Ted Cruz and Ben Carson that conservative voters would rather side with a small-minded (and small-handed) demagogue than ever consider voting for the other side.

We have to fix that now, there is no good 2020 outcome without a reboot.

Fight propaganda with informational literacy

Disinformation also needs to be a solved problem by next time around. I’m not talking about simply plugging our security gaps, I’m talking about educating people on how to filter opinion from fact. The battle is fought one person (not article) at a time.

Informational literacy enables people to form their own ability to think rationally and critically about what’s being presented to them. Everyone is biased, and everyone deserves to work their own flaws out; but being able to agree upon basic facts starts by teaching people (especially those still in formative stages) how to distinguish and agree upon facts.

Listening is also a mandate next time around. Confusion and intolerance about a bad idea is fine, but let that go to far and it blinds you to what may actually be going on. Free speech applies to idiots, villains, thieves, and zealots too, sadly. Clearly, I’m okay with name-calling and sometimes irrational arguments. but keep in mind that shutting people out of communicating their bad ideas doesn’t kill the bad idea; it just incubates it.

A Solution for Next Time Around: Inclusion Beyond Under-representation

So let’s do this. Let’s adjust the strategy to include, not exclude, both our hopes and our reality. Let’s continue to fight for human rights, stand up for others who don’t have the same level of privilege as us, and remember that even people with bad ideas are people who vote.

We can and will hijack enough mindshare in the next four years to vote based on better ideas, but it will take patience, tolerance, and perseverance. Who knows, maybe we’ll learn something about how to change people instead of just saying that we can. That’s a party I’ll belong to.

More Reading:

How can a PID Controller Help to Fight EULA Apathy?

Value comes from what you do. As part of a working class, I firmly believe that when someone takes away your control over the work you do, they violate a basic human right. Work hard, work smart, but work on something that people need. That is value.

I’m seriously disturbed by wide-spread apathy over the legal ramifications of EULAs on personal rights. This is core curriculum IMO for digital literacy. If you own a phone or use email, you have very few digital rights, and that’s a problem. We’ve been eating marshmallows, lots and lots of marshmallows.

What is a EULA?

An End User License Agreement (EULA) is that it’s that thing you press the “Agree”, “Accept”, or “I Understand” even when you didn’t read the fine print. Think of every app on your phone, every e-commerce store, and every piece of software installed on your computer. It is a legal document, binding and enforceable and you have no idea what it says.

What is EULA apathy?

Well, consider that you have accepted many of them, probably without knowing it, and the terms can be changed at any time without requiring your consent. Meh. That’s EULA apathy.

If this doesn’t bother you, think of all the photos and videos you, your friends, and family upload to social networks daily. You don’t legally own them. That means that you can find yourself, your children, and intimate details of your house on display in a designer picture frame at your nearest Target store.

If today, your mobile phone or cable provider think you’re using their service in a way that doesn’t fit their current perspective, they cut you off. No internet, no phone, no ability to communicate to the outside world. What is free speech without the ability to speak? This increasingly matters, not just in China, but everywhere.

What is the *human* problem with EULAs?

The problem is delayed gratification, particularly with small-transaction agreements such as mobile apps. It’s that new game, the app that helps you find food or gas or sex, connect with others, something that makes them feel just a bit more validated than they are now. Hello, all of social media.

Why does National Geographic need my phone number, my location, and my files?

We accept what we don’t understand because our immediate gain outweighs future loss. EULAs are the digital equivalent of sugar addiction in America; our tipping points in both fights has long since passed. And just like our biological imperative to optimize for caloric intake, our emotional imperative for validation by other humans drives us to ignore what businesses ask from us.

How the fuck do you compete with human nature? How do you get people to care about what they don’t understand?

After a long time, I realized…you don’t.

My problem with EULAs is really about corporate personhood.

EULAs are designed to protect the rights of the business over the individual. They often ensure that you are responsible for bad things, illegal materials, and inappropriate use of a thing or service, but importantly that you do not own the content you provide. Not coincidentally, they also absolve the licensor (the business) of any wrong-doing to minimize risk to profit.

This leads to very unethical behavior, such as Facebook ignoring that many users are selling deadly weapons on their service. If the business owns the data but the creator is still held responsible for how it is used, we write an ethical blank check to corporations that we know will choose profit over well-being…every time.

Ownership infers responsibility. EULAs are conscription law. Digital fucking slavery.

If EULAs are a problem, how do we fix them?

The reality is that we can’t start by trying to change businesses or legal structures easily. If you can provide an easier way, people will be far more likely to take it. EULAs are about risk mitigation, an outcome of greed. You just have to get human nature to overcome the problem WITH ITSELF.

We can fight greed with greed by letting people control profits from their own data.

I brought this up a little last week as host of our Boston APIcraft meetup. I asked the question “If we quantified profitability over our personal data, would people be more inclined to pay attention to their rights (i.e. personal value)?” The conversation was positive, and the group was definitely there when it came to digital literacy. But the first step is personal data ownership for sure.

Ownership is fundamental to profitability when it comes to your own data. Let’s assume we get over how the hell to individually own and host our own data stores in a way that vendors even want to be involved in. Let’s skip past that part, thought Phil Windley has some interesting thoughts into this (i.e. PICO and personal clouds).

Once we own our own data, we have control and responsibility over it. Then we can make some real money progress.

OKAY, OKAY! How does PID control logic apply to EULAs?

Watching a GOTO; presentation on agile by Dave Thomas last night, he discussed how much of our modern world consists of PID controller circuits. He used an example of how mega-boats solved their human navigation problems before GPS was a thing.

The reason is that in many situations, making a decision without at least a bit of historical context or tracking to future goal often leads to failure. Sounds exactly like what is missing from our current situation with EULA apathy.

Let’s apply the PID pattern to personal profitability. Consider the three active elements in the PID control model:

Proportion, the current state of the system:

Your location and preferences are being traded privately between commercial entities. Since you accepted the EULAs that consign data ownership to them, they can do whatever the fuck they want with it. Fitbit and the insurance industry comes to mind. They make money, you see none of it. You pay for the device and see only a fraction of the value.

We want to change this, but pause, this is simply what is happening now, current state.

Integral, the history of profit:

How much money have people been making on your data, and have we been able to change the tide in other circumstances? Lots, and yes we have.

Global BI and analytics market is estimated at $16.9 billion, says Gartner…you know, if you believe anything they say. Sometimes I do. On Thursdays.

“The global mobile analytics market is expected to grow from USD 1.36 Billion in 2015 to USD 4.12 Billion by 2020, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 24.73% during the forecast period.” [ref] – that’s just mobile though.

Translation: pants on fire, slap me rotten, nucking futs profits.

And that’s not even the money you spend on stuff, that’s money made on the data about the stuff you spend your money on, and what you don’t. The reason that Google search, Facebook, and news sites are free is because in exchange for some a little service, they sell a massive amount of rich data about you.

We have changed this in the past (patient rights), but we have done this through legal channels which in America is a veil of ignorance and infects every good idea it touches with bureaucratic impotency.

We also have changed the way enterprise software profits. The web runs on approximately 75% linux; open source software disrupts the profits of big bads.

Derivative, the future goal:

If we want people to profit off their own data, we have to find alternatives to the broken systems we have now. It needs to be cheap. It needs to be transparent. And it needs to be easy to manage and integrate with. Git comes to mind.

It’s far more than a single technology though, it’s an ecosystem, and it needs compelling arguments for the average citizen to move forward. If only we had a government that didn’t let institutions off easily for massive data breaches, maybe businesses wouldn’t want to take on the liability of storing all our data in the first place.

We also need to deal with the problem of access to this data. If net neutrality is really dead, then there’s no other solution but to maintain our data on someone else’s infrastructure (not our own), but due so in a yet-undeveloped fully encrypted manner.

It’s not as simple as a PID controller, but no human problem ever is. The best we can do is engage, try to move some part of it forward, and that’s EULAs for me. As always, more to come.

7 Practical Tips for Inclusion

This chick I know, I interviewed her last week for my upcoming podcast debut. She’s phenomenal in a way that makes me so proud, grateful and humbled all at the same time. Sufficed to say, I found a place to put one of the ideas I had been holding on to ever since I started going to the Women In Tech group at my work:

“Practical Tips to Help White Dudes Help Out”

Trust me, I’m a subject matter expert on this. I’m so white, I made the vanilla ice cream we had for dessert tonight say “daaaaammn!” (then I ate it up). And though I’m not into sports and don’t have lots of chest hair, I am definitely dude.

I’m the kind of dude that wants to help. I have a son and daughter and I want the world to be a less sexist, less broken place by the time they are out in it. It’s that attitude I look for in others, not the other things that differ between us.

Yet it still remains, there are huge imbalances in society no matter what angle you look at things from. Good intention matters a little, but action in the face of injustice matters a whole lot more. It’s what you do that defines you to others most because only a few people in life will ever spend the time to see past that.

What Can We Do to Help?

The difficulty with things like gender inequality, under-representation, privilege, and inclusion is that they’re too nebulous/vague/ethereal for the side of the crowd that can/should/doesn’t do something about it, namely white dudes, to take action on a daily basis. It’s not that we’re white or that we’re dudes, but for whatever reason, many dudes just need practical instructions, marching orders, or technical requirements to move from well-meaning to noticeably effective.

So I wrote some specific tips down. Their implementation might differ from person to person, so I wrote them in their most generic form:

WP_20160214_004

Since they aren’t exactly marching orders, more fortune cookie mnemonics, I’ll put down some examples. They apply to all people, not just dudes to women, white people to everyone else, they apply to people who want to help other people. For the sake of this article, I’ll write it as instructions to my fellow white dudes:

1. Step up by being willing to step aside

Instead of offering your own idea, ask a co-worker for her opinion first. This works best if you do it once or twice casually on a personal basis before doing it in a group or meeting.

Doing so privately before hand can establish trust and help you understand if it’s appropriate to do so in a group setting like a meeting, so that you don’t accidentally put them on the spot.

If you do successfully help to elevate someone else in a group, congratulations you’re using your white dude privilege properly, that’s why you feel good.

2. Invert the situation in your head

When people address a group as “guys, guys”, think about what it would be like if you were in a group and someone addressed you as “ladies, ladies”. It’s a trite example, I know, figure of speech, but ask yourself: why is there even a gender associated with that figure of speech? #culture

When was the last time you heard the words “aw, it’s so great to see a man programmer, really brings some diversity of thought into the group”? or “really? you like beer? are you sure you don’t want some wine or a fruity drink?”

Gender/racial/sexual bias is baked in to _every_ aspect of American life, so there should be plenty of opportunities to invert the situation and see how subjugating it would feel to be on the other side of things.

3. Learn where the gaps are around you

Be willing to ask your human resources department to provide you statistics of gender, race, and ethnicity in your organization. Look around at how many black dudes or women are in your group? How about people from outside your background? If they say no, ask why? You can’t be fired for asking about this stuff. If you are, then be glad! You’re no longer working at the wrong place to work.

4. Don’t chalk things up to a stereotype

Please, white dudes, please do not in your head justify the actions that a woman is taking with the fact that she is a woman. Do not think that he’s thinking that way because he was raised in the ghetto (a.k.a. where all ignorant white dudes think black people come from). And for the love of whatever, please do not justify your homophobia by saying “so long as he doesn’t try to hit on me, I’m cool with it”.

Stereotypes limit people to presumptions you have about them regardless of their actions, which are the one thing we all control about ourselves. Reduce how someone chooses to put themselves out into the world, and you reduce your capacity to see clearly, to respect, to love, and to be loved.

5. Listen; be more interested than interesting

I will never reach a point where I can’t get better at listening. I’m terrible at it today, I hope to suck at it less tomorrow.

The more you listen (awareness), the more you maximize your opportunities. It’s that simple. Action without listening is ignorance.

The practical way to do this is to write “STFU” on your hand, on your notepad or tablet before a meeting, or picture everyone in the room having it tattooed to their foreheads.

When you actively listen to someone, you express interest in them. People like to feel interesting, just like you, and giving that feeling to them as a gift is not a complicated or expensive affair. Both parties win in the end.

6. Find a liaison, socialize, and invite

It’s intimidating to visit someone else’s group or circle. The easiest way to smooth that social gravel is to have someone native invite you and liaise between you and the group.

This puts a responsibility on you to be inviting and socialize people not in your group. It also puts a responsibility on all of these groups to be inviting and look for opportunities to become a liaison too. Yes, I’m calling everyone out here.

Women in tech, take the time to bring a white dude to group. Black people, there is so much I don’t deserve, but the privilege I have you’re welcome to it so long as you’re my friend. We share friendship, we share privilege. That’s one way to get things flowing in both directions.

7. Don’t let failure stop you from trying again

All of these things will feel awkward, not just for white dudes, but for everyone involved. Creating something new doesn’t come easy. Easy is comfortable. If you’re going to be uncomfortable, let it be because of something worthwhile.

Other people are worth it. Try again. Don’t push it…if you’re doing #5 well, you’ll know when to back off. But don’t let failure stop you from doing the right thing. If there are others doing the same, the effect of trying will multiply itself in time.

Automating the Self: Social Media

I’m taking on the task of building an automation system for some of my online social engagement. Since I am not such a Very Important Person (yet :), the absolute worst that can happen is that one of my friend/followers shares something racist or sexist or *-ist that I wouldn’t otherwise agree with. Bad, but I can at least un-share or reply with an “I’m sorry folks, my robot and I need to talk” statement. But this leads to an interesting question:

What does it mean to imbue responsibility over my online persona to a digital system?

It’s not really that bizarre of a question to ask. We already grant immense amounts of control over our online profiles to the social primaries (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google+). For most people, any trending app that wants access to “post to your timeline” is enough of a reason to grant full access to activities on behalf of your profile, though it shouldn’t. Every time you want to play Candy Crush or Farmville, you are telling King and Zynga that it’s okay for them to say whatever they want as if they were you to people in your network.

The more of a public figure you are, the more your risk goes up. Consider that Zynga is not at all incentivized to post bad or politically incorrect content to your network on your behalf. That’s not the problem. The problem is when (not if) the company behind a game gets hacked, as did Zynga in 2011. It happens all the time. It’s probably happened to you, and you stand to lose more than just face.

So what is the first thing to get right about automating social media?

Trust and security are the first priorities, even before defining how the system works. Automation rules are great except for when the activities they’re automating do not follow the rules of trust and responsibility that a human would catch in a heartbeat. There is no point to automation if it’s not working properly. And there’s no point in automation of social media if it’s not trustworthy.

For me at least in the initial phases of planning out what this system would look like, trust (not just “security”) will be a theme in all areas of design. It will be a question I ask early and often with every algorithm I design and every line of code I write. Speaking of algorithms, an early example of these rules go something like this (pseudo-code):