Dear Sauron, I will not be returning to Mordor

[originally written 4/22/2015]

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about J.R. Tolkien.

I have been to the Mountain. I have felt the Ashes on my brow. I have seen what a skilled Practitioner with a broken soul does to people around her. There’s a difference between assertive and asshole. There’s skilled and there’s skewed.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an immigrant. I mean, I’ve talked to my Russian grandmother (rest her soul) about Baba, her mother. I remember pictures of her and only understand very little about what it’s like to be an stranger to everyone around me. I have friends who went through this, but have never been one myself, except for the past 14 months of life.

I ignore homeless people every day when I go into the city. I disregard their need every time I don’t give them the change from my pocket. One time, I saw a Vietnam veteran with a cardboard sign asking for new glasses. The next day after hitting an ATM, I looked for him in on the way back in. I never found him. I should have overcome my ego problems and just eaten the $4 ATM fee right then and there, gone back, and walked with him to the nearest LensCrafters. Do you know how sad it feels to have hundreds of dollars of cash in your pocket for someone who you’ll never see again? You won’t if you can’t.

Remorse, empathy, kindness…these are character traits of someone I’m proud to be. Domination, cynicism, rudeness…they are transparent to people who care. After all this time, I still do; but broken is broken, and as much of an engineer as I am, some things can’t be fixed. Some things aren’t worth the effort.

Additional Reading:

Minimum Viable Open Source

It was about 7 months ago I started to feel myself drawing a line about how I use the words “open source”. 7 months. Certainly in my copy, my writing, and my ideas for future projects (not just programming projects), these words infer meaning beyond what most people think about when they use them.

Originally, open source software was just a bunch of scientists sharing useful stuff. Now its a method of brand extension. How far we’ve all come. It used to mean the freedom to do what one thought was worth doing. Now it seems more synonymous with another word: shackles.

So I want to put it down here, a point in time, where people can see my progression. To call something open source, I expect that:

  • it’s IP/source is available freely without signup
  • it is moderated by the community of its own contributors, not one entity
  • it is maintained separate from other commercial product/service lifecycles
  • does not share the identity of its benefactors  consent
  • does not contain EULAs that non-technical and non-legal persons can understand

I have no problem with companies who want to use “open source” to their brand advantage, but to not respect these few core principals is to be ‘half in’ and very transparent in its intent.

Other reading:

Big Data, No Context, Big Problems

Just look at this graph…not a good trend, right?

How do we know?

Graph(Big Data) – Context == Big Problem

Graphs are visualizations of data optimized for a particular audience: people.

We don’t have to be idiots to need simplification. All we need is to be is modern digital citizens, overwhelmed with data, overburdened by it in many cases.

Graphs follows certain principals of design, common expectations, crowd psychology. To illustrate growth in a left-to-right culture, you illustrate low values on the left and show them increasing on the right. Common x-plot values are time, stdev (standard deviation), and relevant ranges of independent variables.

As an aside, I *LOVE Bell curves. Show me your Bell curves and I’ll pay for dinner. Every. Time.

Big Data == Insight – Context

Going back to the overwhelming amount of data in our lives, with all this “big data”, we still need context…framing around the target problem, which is where “big data” fails for me. It speaks to what it is, but not why. That’s where design comes in.

“Design” infers an audience, a “thing” being designed for that audience, and a conscious mapping of the needs of that audience to the features of the thing. Purposeful design is one step beyond that, extending context to a domain, effective use of the “thing”.

If you’re in the business of big data, you’re not an idiot. You are probably purposely designing context into that market every day, whatever it is you’re doing. Just, every so often, ask yourself: “Am I providing value to someone?”

Big Data + Context == Insight

Here’s a different example of the same values for both axes at the same scale:

What’s interesting in this graph is how there was a dramatic spike at one point followed by a sustained average. The slight dip and hike towards the end is ambiguous in meaning unless you had that sustained average.

Until now, I’ve purposely left out context for these graphs to make a point. Here it is for this one: someone got smart about PR in 2014, didn’t fake anything, and is working hard to make sure people are happy.

Graphs are worthless without context. Don’t expect dashboards to save you unless you understand what the graphs really mean in context.

 

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:

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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.

Gloucester Fire, Housing, and Neighborhood Life

This morning, someone died in a fire in my neighborhood. My heart aches for them and theirs. There have been other fires, all of them terrible and sad too. There are many old houses in my town, and thought we don’t know the cause of the fire yet, housing has been on my mind.

I am a renter, been so for around 15 years in the area. I still have big questions:

  • How the hell am I going to afford a house, ever?
  • What if I buy a house that’s been flipped, and it burns down months later?
  • How safe is my family in a house that’s older than the one in the news?
  • How will my neighbors handle the new August property tax hike?


I am a mess of feelings about this, grateful for those who serve on Gloucester Fire and Police duty. Grateful that it wasn’t my space. Horribly sad for those who suffered and are suffering now. Proud that we have a hospital so close and so ready to respond. Scared it may happen to me one day.

What I *do* know is that you never know what’s going to happen next. Events like this are a reminder of how fragile, how precious, and how important life is, especially in a community that you love and trust. Not everyone is so lucky.

New Year’s Resolution: Don’t Forget the Little Things

Resolutions are stupid. Goals and a plan are much better IMO. My goal for 2016 is “don’t forget the little things”. For me, that means getting much better at JIRA.

There are some days where I wonder how all of this works. For weeks now, “seasonal” sickness has been taking its toll on everyone, families, workplaces, suburban and metropolis, doesn’t matter. Everyone has symptoms.

A sample of my 5am train ride early last week, thoughts:

  • zip your fly
  • kiss your son goodbye
  • bring home bag from work
  • collect homemade caramel corn jars
  • check the online gifts orders on the way home
  • (all the work things)
  • practice sanchin whenever possible without looking weird
  • buy more travel size tissues for backpack
  • queue up “thank you” holiday emails and tweets

This is why we have tools like JIRA and Trello. Put it in there, try to get it right, and remember to check it frequently. There’s too much involved in the plans to expect that large goals will be reached without something to keep it together.

JIRA and task completion is my focus this week.

Amazon Echo and the Future of Digital Privacy

Like every warm-blooded patriot of the Capitalism State, I own an Amazon Prime account. I vote, I pay taxes, I eat burgers, and I love the Boston Red Sox.

There are no less than 4 Amazon-driven devices in my house: FireTV, Kindle Whitepaper, Kindle Fire HD, and a Kindle Dash near the dryer. The thing is, that’s not enough. For them…or for my family.

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Alexa, Amazon’s newest home device, is about the size of a Quaker Oats tin, a compact but noticeable black cylinder that has a voice and listens to your every command. It’s a smart-speaker. It helps you play music when you want it, control lighting, remember appointments, and of course, place an order for something you’ve previously bought. It’s all very convenient, and it’s all very sinister too. Let me explain.

Imagine if you’re a company as large, as powerful, and as consumer-driven as Amazon. With limited exception, you don’t produce much actual product. Primarily, you facilitate. You’re a services company. You are driven by how many people prefer to use you over something else. You do everything you can, including anti-trust tactics to make sure that consumers do use you, your services, and your products. The only reason you care about devices, as much trouble to produce and maintain as physical things are, is because those devices are a delivery mechanism for your services. Nothing sinister so far, right? Well, then…

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When some other company wants to sell a product that competes with one of yours, like the pre-installed browser wars of the 90s, you wisely preclude them from selling their device in your marketplace (tough luck., Chromecast). You bundle your services and products in such a way that it’s a no-brainer  to the average consumer to ‘add-on’ their way through your ecosystem, many of them completely unaware of any other alternatives to what you offer.

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As a consumer, you develop a relationship to the company that gives your kids something educational to do every day, entertains you in the evening, delivers you your household items and groceries, hosts your websites, connects your devices, standardizes your co-workers’ software delivery pipeline, and generally make your life easier. But make no mistake, when theirs is the first online account that you update after receiving a replacement credit card, they’ve got you right where they want you.

Yet still, all of that control over your consumer’s lives isn’t enough. You need more; you need to listen to every word their saying.

So you create a cultural monopoly.

Challenge: How do you get freedom-fighting citizens of a democracy such as the United States to voluntarily live in a surveillance state? Not through politics.

Solution: Through technology. Invent devices that include microphones and/or cameras as a critical component to the purpose of the device.

Result: People line up to sign away their liberty.

Siri

This should sound familiar. You already walk around with one on your person almost all day, every day. All major mobile phone platforms now have a feature for direct vocal interaction with its user. In many cases, this feature is enabled by default, which means that very easily your phone can be used as a surveillance device. Sadly, most people still think that their phone only listens to them when they ask it to. That is simply not the case, and I can prove it. Just hold up your Android with the feature turned on and, as if you were talking to a friend, say:

“I think it’s shameful, when I typed in the wrong thing to Google, then all of the sudden I was presented with a bunch of dildos”.

All Google hears is the last part of the sentence, and now it thinks you really like dildos. Lots of them. I’m not judging, it’s just a thought experiment. It gets worse.

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Imagine lawmakers who need to talk “in private” about how to deal with potential anti-trust activities that a company like Amazon is accused of committing. They’re talking over lunch, but one of them has a Fire Phone and this feature is turned on. It’s like Amazon has a way to live-stream private conversations, easily filtered and categorized by #Google because that’s how your device knows to listen up. We know other people have tried to do this nefariously. Imagine if you could do it legally?

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Consider business owners talking privately about confidential stuff in their own home, with Alexa carefully listening to every word you and every other person in the room say. Your abode, your sanctuary, becomes a chapter from 1984, simply because you want an easy way to know what the afternoon weather will be like and you currently have dough on your hands

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I find it strange that U.S. citizens get so angry when they are presented with facts on how the NSA has “secretly” listened to civilian conversations under the auspices of the Patriot Act and existing wiretapping procedures, but the same people line up at Apple stores for days when it’s something that brings them any marginal potential to simplify their lives. People will pass reforms before they even think about how traditional laws mean nothing to technology without formal transparency measures in place. They hastily scroll to the “ACCEPT” button at the bottom of a EULA that egregiously violates their digital human rights, and then are disappointed when the “convenience” factor isn’t up to their overblown expectations.

By them I mean me. I grew up with Asimov in one ear and Philip Dick in the other. Judgement Day was inevitable. Zero-One, the Machine City, was impenetrable. So I have a healthy dose of skepticism about pervasive technology and artificial value.

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But I also hope to see a world that works for me, not against me. I want my kids to grow up in an age where every new technology doesn’t automatically infer a forfeit of privacy and freedom. I want to know, not just feel, like better technology is a good thing, and I’m willing to pay for it, just not with my digital liberties. Me and my family are not royalty-free content, regardless of what our legal system lets tech startups get away with.

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I think we can do it, but it will take an ethical shift in how tech companies maintain responsibility and transparency in their use of user data. Something like a report from an independent 3rd party audit that details exactly what the company is doing with data points they collect about their users, activity, and reselling that data. That would certainly light a fire under SaaS-hole startups and enterprises alike to not be creepy. I don’t think they’d like that thought. Amazon, Google, IBM, Facebook, Twitter…they’d all send their best lobbyists.

How would you change this dynamic, the politics of digital privacy, and the inevitable impact of technology on your home life?

Unanticipated Editorial Control

I took down someone’s blog post of an event I was at two weeks ago.

All I did was to praise one of the panelists for the amount of mic-drop-esque quotations attributed to her, clear misquotes to anyone who knew how she speaks and who was paying attention. Not too many in both categories, sadly.

This is what social media and marketing gets away with all the time though. Content that is rarely verified by others in the know.

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After a back-and-forth over Twitter, making me sound like my focus was on her answers, the panelist and author direct-emailed the editor-in-chief of the offending blog expecting that it be corrected or removed. I will not share that email. Since the original blogger was already on Thanksgiving vacation, the choice was made to take it down.

Attached is the zip file of what once was before the DMCA-equivalent take down.

[archive] API Consumption at API STRAT_files.zip

My point in writing this is that it is not okay to treat people like a piece of content. If you don’t like being treated like a piece of ass, then don’t treat industry professionals like they’re personalities you can misquote.

With minimal effort, you too can exercise control over marketing ignorance, both in your own business dealings and in others. It’s as easy as starting shit on Twitter to help clarify misinformation right out in the great wide open.

When you are really invested, you worry

I watched a couple of guys help each other today. One of them wanted to test out a dory by paddling it around the harbor before selling it. The other didn’t want anything to do with the water on such a nice day.

I only began to take notice when the other pulled up to the local dock hurriedly, backing in to a double-spot closest to the water. Since we share a share a small neighborhood with him, I said hi and asked how his Thanksgiving was going. He told me fine and what his other was doing and how long it would take him to appear in the cove.

In previous years, I might have lauded how awesome it was that his elderly friend was rowing around in open water, but today I quickly and carefully responded by saying “oh” and asking him “how do you feel about that”? He sort of muttered quietly first and then said loudly “oh, it’s fine, he does things like this all the time”, and wouldn’t look me in the eye. After some chit-chat we moved off each other’s company, and in about 10 minutes, his friend’s two-person row boat peaked out from behind one of the lobster boats docked in the bay, with a guy in it, rowing slowly and steadily.

After navigating past the dock and to the rocks where the truck was parked, they carefully collected the small dory out of the water and navigated it up into the truck bed. The rower then proceeded to fasten the protruding boat to the truck with ropes and carabiners while the driver stood patiently out of the way enjoying the 50 degree holiday weather, free of anxiety and grateful for the salty harbor air.

When two people live together for the better part of their lives, like an odd couple mirroring the dynamics of other married couples, they develop a deep emotional connection to each other, the sweet bitterness of co-dependency. It is the bond formed between people who see more and more into each other, the wonders and the flaws, the longer they captivate each other’s curiosity and souls.

The best part of it is, there are dozens of examples of this fine form of relationship in my neighborhood. Men devoted to each other, women who have known from their first meeting that they were meant to live life together, and every other kind of relationship you can think of too. Single moms. Single dads. Parents of young and old. Grandparents. Young parents. Parents twice and thrice over. Kids made of the most creative and kind things in the known cosmos. Couples, singles, veterans, retirees. Humanitarians. Artists. Engineers.

It takes all kinds. It takes these guys, to make a world. We’re better for having them in it. They help us remember to follow the path of love back to each other.

Defrag 2015 Beforemath

It’s interesting to see themes change year after year. At an event like Defrag or Gluecon, it’s hard to ignore the voraciousness of curiosity. Tinkering.

Of course I’m interested in pretty much all of the keynotes, especially Sam Ramji. Pivotal and all it’s incarnations has been of interest to me for for years, the foundation just caught my attention because of its focus on contribution.

Fact is, the back-half of the first day is all about APIs. That’s where I’ll be. That and the SmartBear booth between sessions. There are big differences between last year and this year, and not just my hair and shoes.

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I come out here to have meaningful, real conversations. About everything, not just APIs, not just technology. I hope to elicit stories from people about their own experiences and challenges with the evolving connected landscape. As much as IoT isn’t a revenue thing right now, it is still in the forefront of my mind, on my radar and on the tip of my tounge.

Come find me.