We Need More Women in High Tech, Dammit!

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Jordan from “Real Genius”, who I adored
(Image courtesy of the Cult Film Club)

Note: This is longer than my usual blog-post.  It’s on a topic that is both complicated, and one I think is really important, but it may strike you as tl;dr.  I’m okay with that.  For the rest of y’all, read on:

Despite the fact that it is a trite observation that “women and men are different”, and bearing in mind that gender is both more fluid and less binary than we are taught growing up, these differences–which permeate basically every facet of our lives–have been and continue to be an important area of study for psychologists, sociologists, and even relatively unimportant schlubs like me. (One of the best books on this topic that I’ve read is Deborah Tannen’s “You Just Don’t Understand”, which I highly recommend.

Now, the reasons behind this are up for debate. Some–radical feminists, for example–say that it’s the patriarchy’s method of keeping women subjugated. Other theories abound (“It’s due to religion”; “It’s a holdover from the Middle Ages”; “It’s a holdover from the hunter/gatherer era”; etc.). But I’m not interested in exploring any of that.

I mention this right up front as a preface to what I’ve seen, and what I think about what I’ve seen, with women and the reactions of men in the high tech world. I’ve written about some of that in another post, so I won’t rehash that in depth. Instead I want to focus on “typical” male and female reactions to certain situations, and how that affects the advancement (or lack thereof) in that environment.

A former manager of mine, Margaret Dawson, has written an excellent post (Seriously: read it!) on this topic, and if I’m successful this will be a good companion piece to her thoughts and observations. You might even read her post first, if you have a mind to.

These are generalizations, of course. I recognize that. And I recognize the fluidity of gender and its potential impact on these observations. But I have seen too much of what I note below to think this stuff isn’t widespread, so I hope you can read with an open mind.

“Men Don’t Cry”

This is a stupid trope that has been around as long as I’ve been alive. Heck, it’s in some literature–science fiction literature, no less–that I still enjoy. “Don’t cry in public”; “Make sure you’re alone in the bathroom if you have to cry”; “Crying shows weakness”; even “There’s no crying in baseball”. All macho baloney of course, but it’s deeply stuck in the culture.

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Oy, enough already with the yelling!

Why mention it? Well, when men are angry, they yell. We’ve all heard stories about high-tech executives who behave like–let’s be honest here–spoiled little children. Yelling, screaming, throwing things, calling people names, cursing up a blue streak that would cause a sailor to blush. (Well, maybe.) Men get mad, and they yell.

When women get mad–and again, this is a generalization, but one I’ve seen many many times and had it confirmed by many women–they cry. It’s their emotional response. It doesn’t matter why–Deborah Tannen probably has a whole book on it–it only matters that it happens.

Add that to the fact that many men have very strong responses to female tears; embarrassment, shame, anger, even (so I’ve read) sexual excitement. (It’s never affected me that way, but I can believe it.)

Now mix it together. A woman gets angry during a meeting, or in a 1-1 interaction; what happens? She’s a weakling, she “can’t take the heat” and should “get out of the kitchen”. She needs more and bigger balls. She needs to toughen up. This is business, not personal, and business isn’t bean-bag toss. It’s tough; you need to be tough, too. Etc.

(As a side note the only time I ever hear “It’s just business, it’s not personal” is when someone has either just screwed you over, has screwed over someone else, or is planning on screwing someone over, and they want to salve their ego. And in my view, it’s epic baloney.)

There are really only two options here: Force yourself to learn another set of emotional responses to external stimulus (it can be done, but it’s hard), or teach men to be respectful of the different ways in which women respond to situations that make them angry. Neither of these is an easy solution, but these are emotional reactions, for most folks below the conscious level; it seems unlikely we’ll see a lot of advancement for women in high tech executive positions until both are addressed. Both, not just one or the other.

Men Expect Advancement as Their Due

One thing in Margaret’s post was that has long struck me was her recounting how many of her fellow women executives wondered how to advocate for themselves, how to get the advancements that they seemed to earn, how to ask for it. What hit me most of all were the women who advanced rapidly or highly, and were considered “heroes” for doing so.

You shouldn’t have to be a “hero” in order to advance. Reasons to advance someone in a hierarchy are various, but most folks expect the value of their work to be recognized, and for them to advanced based on that recognition. But you also have to advocate for yourself, because your manager–no matter how good he is–may not know of your goals, or advocate strongly for you, or think you want advancement. Only you can avoid being trapped in a position because “that’s where you excel”.

As a rule, men advocate for themselves; it’s expected, it’s not surprising, and it’s not denigrated in the least. Indeed, a number of managers have told me that it was good I did.

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Hoo boy

Women on the other hand are in a double-bind. While it’s made advances since I was a kid, society still treats girls and women to “be seen and not heard”, to be demure, quiet, not strong personalities. (My partner and I have gone out of our way to avoid our daughter being inculcated with this idiotic trope.)

If a woman follows this line, she doesn’t advocate for herself, expecting (reasonably) that her efforts will be justly rewarded. And as I already alluded, a lot of time that simply doesn’t happen (unless, ironically, a male co-worker goes to bat for them–which I have done myself on a number of ocassions).

But if a woman does have the temerity to advocate for herself, it’s almost impossible for her to do so in a way that doesn’t mark her as “pushy”, “grasping”, or “a real bitch”. She can be asking for her due in a far less direct manner than her male co-workers and still be branded as “a pushy bitch”, despite how enormously unfair this is.

Are there male executives out there who don’t behave this way? Sure. But as Margaret’s post shows you, they’re in short supply.

Nerd Culture is Inherently Sexist

If you had any doubt about this, one can only hope that “gamergate” changed your mind, as gamers are very similar to nerds and the two overlap quite a bit.  (If you don’t know anything about it, Google it; it’s too long to summarize here.)  Or you can read my brief overview of the problem in a previous blog post.  But a few details of that culture are relevant and I wanted to mention them.  (And I tell you three times and what I tell you three times is true:  I am well aware that these are generalizations.  But I’ve seen them demonstrated so often it would make your head explode.)

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Turnabout is fair play, mo’fos!

Nerds wear jeans and t-shirts.  Yes, it’s superficial and at base a silly observation, but it hints at something deeper, and is another double-bind for women.  If they dress like a nerd in jeans and t-shirts, they’re not being feminine; they’re being butch, they must not like guys, they must be the female equivalent of self-hating Jews, etc.  You won’t believe some of the nasty things I’ve heard (mostly younger) nerds say about women who actually dress the part.  But by the same token, if you dress nicely, you’re a “distraction”, you’re not a real nerd, you’re paying more attention to your clothes than your work, etc. etc.

Guys swear, girls don’t.  As I mentioned in my other blog post, if a guy swears, he’s just being a guy. If a woman does, it’s inappropriate.  I have seen CEOs, Senior VP’s, “distinguished engineers”, and other men at high levels behave in a manner that is, shall we say, unacceptable outside a locker room.  In meetings.  Yelling, swearing, banging on things; it’s all okay.  But if you are a woman, oh my land, do the Mrs. Grundy’s of the world come out.  “How shocking!”  “Not acceptable!”  “Inappropriate!”  “What a bitch!”  Etc.  And of course if you don’t swear, or use alternatives, you sound as ridiculous as Ian McShane would saying, “Well drat it all!” on “Tombstone”.

Guys watch sports.  Look, just because a lot of nerds didn’t play sports doesn’t mean they don’t watch them.  (Though of course many nerds did and do.  I’d still be doing sports if my body hadn’t collapsed on me.  Another story.)  Fantasy football.  Baseball.  Football.  Soccer.  “Hey, did you see the Sharks game?”  “Do you have tickets to the Spurs?”  “Are the ‘horns ever going to the Rose Bowl again?”  Etc.  This filters into the language, where as many feminists have pointed out makes sports metaphors pervasive.  “We have to swing for the fences”; “It’s fourth and one and we need to go for it”; “We need a home run here”; “We’re going to have to punt”; etc.

Sure, there are plenty of women who like sports, and can fit in with this, but not all of them.  To push it to the other extreme, while there are some metrosexual guys out there who might feel comfortable speaking about upcoming software projects in terms of makeup, if a female project manager started saying things like, “We used the wrong shade of lipstick on that; we went with a pink and we should have gone with a deep red”, I have to think there’d be a lot of uncomfortable squirming around the table and guys talking to each other afterwards saying, “What the FUCK was she talking about?”

And that’s exactly the point, kids.

Now What?

I’ve always hated articles, books, blog posts, or what have you that point out some problem in society and then say various versions of, “How this all plays out in the future . . . remains to be seen.  I’m Biff Clicherstein, CBS News.”  No.  Suggestions, thoughts, ideas; if you’re going to kvetch about something, the least you should do is propose a solution or two, no matter how ridiculous it may sound.  As people in high tech say, put something up there so you can shoot arrows at it.  That’s the only way to make ideas arrow-proof.

So what do I think?  I think a few things, most that have been proposed before, some of which will be, to put it mildly, hard to implement.

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Kaylee from “Firefly”, who looks best w/ engine grease on her

  • Start ‘em young.  In the 70s, a lot of people made fun of attempts to produce gender-neutral toys.  Yeah, okay, sometimes the 70s went a bit far, but why not?  And why not market toys to the entire spectrum of kids?  My boy loved his sister’s Dorothy costume ruby slippers; why not?  We gave my daughter dolls and Mack trucks.  Girls can’t love the LEGO Millennium Falcon?  Why the heck not?  Don’t limit your kids.  Now, just because my daughter turned into a girly-girl who loves pink doesn’t mean we didn’t work hard to give her options.  And that’s the point; she made her own choices.  Don’t make them for your kids; let them make them.
  • Similarly, be aware that gender is not binary, that there are more options than The Manly Boy and the Girly Girl.  There are girly-boys, and boyish girls, and little boys who will grow up and decide that they were girls all along, and all kinds of variants all over the spectrum.  Be aware of it, and don’t force your kid into a mold.  The mold of the Barbie, pink-wearing, “math is hard”, I can’t fix engines type is a trap.  Sure, they can choose that, but the key is giving them the choice.  Trust me on this:  Not every “Firefly” fan is stuck on the “classic” beauty Inara; Kaylee and River and Zoe have plenty of fans, too.  Don’t force your girl to be Inara if she wants to be Kaylee.  (Yes, I am a nerd, too.  Sue me.)
  • More video games with female heroes.  And with a greater variety of body types, please.  Humans come in all sizes.  Yeah, soldiers are going to be more buff, but all women don’t have D-cup boobs and trust me on this one, those that do don’t usually go around in skin-tight spandex.  Use some imagination here.
  • More movies with female heroes.  How many people kicked up a fuss when they talked about Black Widow not being in the second Avengers movie, huh?  Don’t tell me there’s no market for it.  Two of the best science fiction shows on TV are “Orphan Black” and “Lost Girl”, both with female protagonists (and both with bi and lesbian characters, I might add; start clutching those pearls, Mrs. Grundy!).

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The stars of “Lost Girl”–not the “female stars”, the stars

  • Enough with the fucking sports metaphors.  I’m a guy and I’m tired of them.  Can’t we come up with something a little more imaginative?  We have access to almost all the knowledge of human history through our effin’ phones and we have to stick with sports metaphors?  C’mon!
  • Positive encouragement of girls in STEM classes all through K-12.  This has to be a priority.  Kids learn early what their roles are, and we keep letting girls get shunted into the “girly” tracks right from kindergarten, we are dooming ourselves.  How many potential female engineering geniuses are dying on the vine because of sexism?  My mother’s side of the family is hella smart.  Really smart.  And with what result?  My grandmother attempted suicide; her mother suicided, and so did her mother.  I don’t know the reasons, but it couldn’t have been easy to be a smart, strong-willed woman in an era where that was strongly quashed.  We need all our brainpower; let’s not quash it.
  • Affirmative action for women in college STEM programs; and yes, that’s right you right-wing jerks:  I’m talking about quotas.  When the playing field gets leveled, maybe we’ll change it back.  Right now, with what, 13% of high tech engineering jobs filled by women, you want to whine about quotas?  That’s just plain stupid.  We need to crank our butts into gear, get women in STEM, and keep them there.
  • In these last two, we need to treat sexism with the same level of intervention as bullying is now treated (and boy I wish we had had that anti-bullying stuff when I was in school!).  Have sexist jerks be brought before the Vice Principal and read the riot act, given detentions and suspensions.  Stop that kind of nonsense in its tracks.

Just like how in the end it wasn’t necessary for gays and lesbians to “act straight” in order to start getting equal rights, I see no reason why women should be forced to “act like nerds” in order to make it in high tech.  High tech doesn’t need women acting like nerds; it needs women acting however they act, and everyone getting over it.  If a woman swears, she swears; get over it.  If she dresses in a low-cut top, get over it.  If she uses some kind of metaphor that isn’t sports-related, get over it.  If she cries instead of yelling and throwing things when she gets angry, GET OVER IT.  You cried when Spock died in “Wrath of Khan”; she cries when you acting like a jerk-weed in a meeting.  Deal with it.

And in the meantime, let’s get cracking, shall we?  And if you have any ideas, let’s hear ‘em!

The Anti-Anti-Cosby Ass-Clown Backlash

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Image courtesy of Det Snakker Viom

In case you haven’t been paying much attention to the news–I sure haven’t, honestly; it depresses me–recently Bill Cosby was accused of sexual assault/rape.  He denied it (as one might expect), and a few of his friends defended him and made the (reasonable) point about due process, assumption of innocence, and that he’s a good guy they can’t imagine would have done anything like that.  And I have to admit that it depresses me a lot; my sense of humor is apparently an amalgam of multiple sexual abusers like Woody Allen and Bill Cosby.  Lucky me.  (George Carlin is in there too.  And Bob & Ray and others.)  I don’t want him to be guilty any more than his friends.

But then multiple other women came forward with their own stories, in a manner that makes it hard to believe that Cosby is totally innocent.  And thus the debate was engaged, and the mainstream media went absolutely nuts, as it is wont to do.  Reminded me of the OJ highway chase, honestly.  Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, unemployment, the recent election results, the latest committee report that there is no there there regard Benghazi–all this might as well not exist.  It’s all Cosby, all the time.

A web zine called The Wrap (that I have never heard of) weighed in on the topic several times, and then yesterday published a post by a writer named Richard Stellar (ditto) that was titled, incredibly, “The Rape of Bill Cosby”.  As if this weren’t obnoxious enough, the lead sentence continued in this vein.  “Bill Cosby raped me.  Now that I have your attention . . .”  And it went on like that.  Disguised as an accusation of the media feeding frenzy, Stellar went on to insult victims of rape everywhere (“There is no legitimacy to justice if there is no real evidence, and evidence has a way of vanishing as memories dim with the marching of time”) along with accusing the women who have come forward of trying to “cash in” on the story.

So okay, this was horrific.  It was victim blaming in almost it’s most classic form.  But then, in a response to a Twitter-storm of protest, Sharon Waxman, CEO and lead editor for The Wrap, defended the post and Stellar, insisting it was a 1st Amendment issue and that the outrage was designed to squash alternative views.

What hogwash.

It’s spectacularly clear that Ms. Waxman simply doesn’t get it.  In her “apology” (which I put in quotes because it’s only one level removed from the classic non-apology apology of the form “I’m sorry if anyone’s feelings were hurt” that politicians use all the time), she writes, “Our Hollyblogs are written by independent bloggers and represent their own views.” Ms Waxman, I’m sorry, this is your Webzine; take responsibility for what it prints. Don’t try to fob off responsibility because it’s an “independent blogger”. Besides, as you yourself said, “Richard Stellar has been blogging for TheWrap almost since the site has existed”. Given that, it’s even more critical that you take responsibility; while Stellar may be “independent” in some absolute sense of the word, his long association with your publication renders claims of total independence dubious at best.

She also writes, “What would be the point of only publishing points of view with which we agree?”  This is a classic straw-man argument, one that she has gone to again and again on Twitter.  No one is arguing that.  Indeed, if you had posted–or Stellar had written–a post in defense of Cosby that didn’t denigrate his accusers in the title, not to mention attributing to them motives of which he can have zero knowledge and engaging in an epic spasm of victim blaming, while people would have protested, it would have been more like the “debate” that you say you want.  

I honestly wonder if Ms. Waxman truly does not understand why women are so reluctant to report sexual assaults or domestic violence, or why so many women held their tongues until someone finally couldn’t take it any more and had to report it.  And what is the likelihood that a woman suffering one of the most violating, humiliating of crimes really wants “15 minutes of fame” to talk about it?  I stipulate it’s possible, but must believe it’s very rare.  Particularly against a figure that has been almost universally beloved for more than a generation.  Is Stellar kidding about that?  It’s a ridiculous accusation, and insults the pain and suffering of the accusers.  It’s classic, almost a Platonic ideal, of victim blaming.  That she could publish such a piece and then defend it so vehemently is simply astonishing.

And that is what is at issue here, in my opinion.  Waxman’s TheWrap ran with a post that engaged in insulting, denigrating, dismissive victim blaming right from the title onward, and furthermore was easily interpreted to be insulting to any rape victims, not just those who might have been assaulted by Cosby.  (How many different ways can one interpret “Bill Cosby raped me”, other than as a lame attempt at “humor” that insults rape victims everywhere?  It enraged me, and I’m a male who has never experienced rape; I can’t even imagine how it felt to women who have experienced sexual assault.)

In her “apology” and her Twitter remarks, Waxman keeps trying to make the point again and again that the people protesting Stellar’s post don’t want to engage in debate, and that’s simply not the issue at all.  The issue is the way Stellar addressed his point of view, which was horrific.  It’s not unlike when anti-abortionists call pro-choice folks “baby-killers”.  There is debate, and then there is trolling, victim blaming, insulting, and being inflammatory; Stellar’s post was the latter.  It’s not like there aren’t plenty of “independent bloggers” who would be more than happy to write on this topic without being insulting and dismissive.  Why couldn’t The Wrap engage one of them, post it, and stop engaging in straw-man tactics and trying to grab the higher ground of “freedom of speech”?  Because freedom of speech doesn’t mean a WebZine has to publish everyone’s obnoxious, noxious opinions.  You want to publish an opposing viewpoint, go for it.  You want to continue publishing abrasive click bait, and you’ll keep getting castigated.

It’s up to you, Ms. Waxman.  Here’s hoping you have an open mind, and not just a reflexive defense mechanism.

Musing on a Guy’s Feminism

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt nails it IMO

Because of when I grew up, and in large part because of who my mom is/became, I have been thinking about feminism, women’s rights )reproductive and otherwise), feminism’s relation to sex, how men can (or can’t) be feminists, and so on a good chunk of my life.  Lately, as seems to happen on a regular basis, I’ve seen another round of posts, articles, and thought pieces on whether women can or can’t have it all, and which one is a more feminist approach.

Now, my opinions on the answer to this are inherently bogus cuz I’m not only a guy, I’m a straight, cis-gendered, white guy.  I’m well aware of my privileges and advantages, and how they benefit me basically every single friggin’ day.  Heck, I’ve even written about how much it pisses me off.  If you don’t believe me, or want to tune me out because of that, that’s totally fine.  I’m not trying to mansplain’ here; I’m just musing about what I think.

Now that I’ve qualified my place in the feminist movement, my answer to the “can/can’t she have it all” question is simple:  It’s the wrong damn question.  And this is kind of what I’ve decided feminism boils down to for me:  Equality for all, regardless of gender.  (With gender having the modern, more elastic definition, i.e. including trans folks & etc.)  That’s it.  Pretty simple, and something I have hard time anyone would not want to support.  Which means the question about “having it all” should really be asked this way:

“Don’t you believe everyone, regardless of gender, should have the opportunity and freedom to pursue their dreams in life?”

If you want to try to “have it all”, you should have that freedom (whether you’re a man or a woman!); if you want to just pursue your career, you should have the freedom to do that, without having to face the stuff I’ve seen in high tech; if you want to stay at home and raise your kids (like I did for more than a year!), you should have the freedom to do that.  That’s feminism to me:  The ability to have an equal chance to pursue your dreams, your desires, whether you “want it all” or not, dammit!

Freedom and opportunity; that’s all.

Now, the right wing has done an exemplary job in throwing enough mud at the word “feminism” to make us lefties disown it to a lesser or greater degree.  I’ve given this considerable thought, and on the one hand I think the word “feminism” really sucks–right away, it makes me feel as a man that my help in pushing this really reasonable goal of equal opportunity and freedom is not wanted.  Or worse, actively discouraged, as indeed it is by the radical feminism side of the world.  You know: The folks who believe all penis-in-vagina (PiV) sex is rape; the wymyn who believe any male/female sex is assault.  And the second wave feminists, by saying things like “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” haven’t helped.  You hear that, and it’s pretty reasonable to respond, “Oh yeah?  Okay; fuck you, then!”

And of course, you get a vocal minority of these types of feminists who object to anything that is remotely sex-positive.  Porn is evil; PiV sex is evil; male/female sex is evil; BDSM is evil; kink is evil; opening doors for people perpetuates the patriarchal paradigm; getting married is demeaning (and evil); etc.  You get enough of this and you think, “Yeah, I don’t want to be part of that.  Combine that with the right making you feel bad about it anyway, and the pressure to disown feminism is pretty strong and widely held.

But you know what?  Screw those people!  “Feminism” means equal opportunity and freedom no matter your gender, dammit!  That’s it!  We’re all equal partners in the workplace, the home, raising the kids, forming relationships, sexual play, governing the country, state, and locales, and everything else!  Opposing that is not only sexist and bigoted, it’s anti-American, durn it!  We hold these truths to be self-evident, and all that.

So yeah, I think it’s not a good term for the principle (and “humanist” is worse), and wish we could come up with a better one like when “gay marriage” morphed into “marriage equality”.  (“Genderism”?  “Gender freedom”?  “Gender equality”?  I’m open to suggestions.)  But it’s what we have right now, and the first thing is we need to reclaim the word from the right-wing dipsticks like Rush “Feminazi” Limbaugh and his fellow idiot travelers and make it our own again, just like “liberal”, and to heck with them.  And the second thing is, we gotta get more men on board.

Anyway, that’s what this one guy here thinks.

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I’ve been this guy & the haters can still suck it

GenX is Middle Aged & the World Yawns

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Our dreams are modest–a bit of payback would be nice

Recently I read in Salon that the generation with which I most closely identify–GenX–is now reaching middle age.  The writer repeated a lot of common GenX tropes about how we’re all a bunch of loser slackers who do a lot of whining about our lot.  And as a (more or less) GenXer at the outer edge of middle age, I naturally had a few thoughts on that score.

I may have been born in 1963 and so am, technically, a “Baby Boomer.”  But I’m not.  When people were sticking flowers in guns, I was watching “Romper Room” (and wondering why that damn magic mirror never saw “Doug”).  When women were burning their bras, I was diggin’ on Morgan Freeman as “Easy Reader”.  I wasn’t watching Mrs. Robinson; I was watching “The Brady Bunch.”  You get the picture.  My “generation” came right after the Baby Boom.  We’re a wedge generation; too early for being Gen X; too late to understand sock hops or free love or all that.  We’re not even really a generation; we’re more of a condition.  A state of mind.  A longing, perhaps.

Put it this way:  When I tried to read one of Updike’s “Rabbit” novels–supposedly one of the major literary voices of the Boomer generation–I found it stultifyingly, brain-numbingly tedious.  “Get over yourself!” I kept yelling.  “Stop pining over your lost youth and do something, you useless git!”  If this was a typical “Boomer” voice, not only did I want no part of it, I couldn’t even relate to it.

Why?  Because it seems like as long as I’ve been a conscious entity aware of what was going on outside of my immediate area, the country has been in decline.  It started with Vietnam, of course, but then we had the various economic stuff of the 70s (Gas lines! Stagflation! Runaway inflation! Etc!), Watergate, the constant sense of impending nuclear armageddon (until 1990 or thereabouts), Reagan & Bush I running up the deficit and exploding the deficit and building up the military to a ridiculous level and wedging the income gap wide open, Iran/Contra, the S&L crisis, the housing bubble, the Great Recession, two profoundly stupid wars (which the Boomers got us into)–three if you count the recent mess in Syria, the fact that more than half of our parents got divorced, and on and on.

It’s just been one damn thing after another, as they say.  Sure, no World War III, but it’s not exactly been one long party, has it?

So why is my “generation” the way we are?  Because we’re busy, that’s why.  We have a lot of messes to clean up (some of which, admittedly, we created our own selves, like the tech bubble–though let’s be honest here: We had plenty of help from the Boomers in that one).  We don’t have time to wallow in angst and self-pity like Rabbit; we have to deal with shit.  And we have to do it with less money and more debt (personal and governmental) than previous generations.  And hey, thanks a lot for all that, by the way.

But if you’re wondering why we sometimes whine, there it is.  Sometimes it gets wearisome.  I can’t tell you how many of my friends are so, so, SO tired of having to continue to keep re-fighting the social values wars of the 60s.  Gay rights, women’s rights, sexual freedom, freedom from religion, minority equality, reproductive health and self-determination, even effin’ birth control, for Pete’s sake!  We thought that had been taken care of.  We look at the Tea Party types and their fellow travelers on the far right and want to scream, “You lost those battles!  We won!  WHEN will you get over it?!”  (I’ve personally reached the conclusion, much like Andrew O’Hehir writes in his post on Salon, that we just have to wait for demographics.  i.e., we have to wait for these older, white, cis-gendered, Protestant, heterosexual Republican voting folks to–let’s be frank–die off.  Yeah, yeah; there are some younger folks who have allowed themselves to be brainwashed by the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, but believe me, they’re a minority.  I just hope and pray they don’t destroy the country entirely in the meantime.  And frankly, I don’t have much hope.)

Now, you may make fun of some of us for moving back in with our parents, taking longer to get married, staying in school longer, etc.  I understand.  But we’re facing some serious shit, here, and we have fewer resources with which to deal with it.  It’s all downsizing, and out-sourcing, and off-shoring, and “make do with less”, and “work smarter not harder”, and rising productivity with no corresponding rise in wages.  Why do you think the tech worker’s social ur-Text is “Office Space” with its “dream of doing nothing”?

So we’re doing our best, which sometimes means living in Mom’s basement while we desperately look for a job that pays us exactly the same in real dollars as they paid dear old Dad in the 70s, with no hope of catching up to the Romney’s, Trumps, Kochs, and the like.  We don’t have the money to just dive into marriage, or buy a new house.  (Sami and I needed a loan to get married!)  We’re struggling, to be blunt about it, but we’re scrubbing away at the mess, and we’re doing our best.

I would never call folks my age and in the bracket 20 years behind me “great”, though I think we do pretty well.  But bear this in mind:  The “greatest generation” was to a large part in a similar boat.  They dealt with the aftermath of WWI, absurd income inequality, a crushing Depression, and a World War that, literally, threatened democracy.  They had Gilded Age jerk-weeds wanting to lord it over them just like we do.  They had Victorian-era blue-noses that wanted to control their wild kids’ sexuality just like we do (though ours are 50s-era).  And I betcha they complained plenty until they hit retirement age, at which point they only complained about kids on their lawn. (Rim shot.)  Will we get that kind of epithet when we retire and people look back on the period of, say, 1990-2020?  Who knows?  But I betcha money we’ll come off better then than we do now.  What we basically lack is a Roosevelt, a member of the rich, monied group who “betrays their class” to stitch society back together.  (If only!)

So yeah, now we’re moving into middle age (some of us are deep in!), and hardly anyone is writing about it.  That’s okay; we don’t seem to get noticed except when we complain or invent the iPhone or something (Jon Ive is a GenXer).  And we don’t seem to go all batshit crazy just cuz we come up with a good idea that makes a lot of money (I’m looking at you, Mark Zuckerberg, member of the “millennials”).  We just keep plugging along and, when it gets to us as it inevitably does, we complain.  So apparently we’re a bunch of slackers who don’t do anything.  No, we don’t; we just clean up messes.  Cuz someone has to.

Note: Some of this content is a repeat of a post I put up on Open Salon in 2009, shortly after Obama’s first Inauguration.

When Being Correct Doesn’t Help

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Image courtesy of PaperBlog

Ever since they shuffled onto the scene in the guise of long-haired hippies in the 60s, the progressive left has been a) continually dismissed and even bashed by elected officials and the mainstream media, and b) been right about a ton of issues, over and over.  So, one item at a time.

“Hippie bashing” is a popular sport in the media and with politicians, especially politicians in Washington.  (Though it’s not limited to them; think Reagan in the 60s and how he treated any kind of left-wing protest on UC campuses.)  The first President I can remember is Richard Nixon, and though he made some nods towards youth, he mostly detested those “dirty hippies”.  And he was hardly alone; when asked in a Town Hall by a caller about drug or marijuana legalization, he simply laughed and moved on to the next question, as if it were such a silly notion it was beneath comment.

Now, of course, dope is legal in several states, “medicinal marijuana” in several others (despite heavy federal crackdowns by a nominally Democratic president), and even the most establishment of figures are saying the War on Drugs is a waste of money, time, resources, and causes people guilty of picayune crimes to be tossed into jail alongside murderers and rapists.  Not to mention that the busts are disproportionately minorities despite the fact that it’s caucasians who are most likely to be toking.

And this is my point:  When Reagan launched his huge escalation of the War on Drugs (alongside the phenomenally idiotic “Just Say No” campaign, the 80s answer to “abstinence-based sex education”, though more anodyne), many, many, many progressives said it was a waste of time and resources; that it would send people to prison for minor crimes to be jailed alongside murderers and rapists, and that it would disproportionately effect the poor and minorities.  And we were derided as dirty hippies, probably stoned, told to shut-up, and assured the government knew what it was doing.  And here we are, 30+ years along, and it’s clear we were dead right.

The same is true for a number of critical, key policies.  The dirty hippies were absolutely right in predicting a war in Iraq would be an endless quagmire that would do no good.  (And despite Bush&Cheney’s efforts to make it appear so, the vast majority of people on the left did not believe Saddam Hussein was better off alive than dead.  Although many Iraqis these days might disagree.)  The dirty hippies were correct in predicting that supply-side economics would cause huge budget deficits, increase the federal debt, and greatly increase income disparity.  (Look, righties:  Supply-side economics doesn’t work.  It doesn’t.  It got a more-than-fair trial at both the national and state levels, and it never works.  Get over it!)  Heck, the list of economic issues on which the progressives have been right and the right-wing wrong alone could fill a book–the effects of increasing the minimum wage (it doesn’t cost jobs); the effects of increasing taxes on the rich (it also doesn’t cost jobs and does increase tax revenue); the effects of regulation on business; and so on.

We hippies insisted that “abstinence-based sex education” would increase the incidences of teen pregnancy and STIs; it does.  We said making abortion outlawed or more difficult to attain would increase illegal abortion rates and the mortality rate among pregnant women; it does.  We said allowing marriage equality would have no negative effect on heterosexual marriage rates; it doesn’t.  Don’t even get me started on the negative impact of militarizing the police and greatly augmenting their numbers, which has led to things like Ferguson and the unbelievable increase in effort and money spent busting sex workers (which I personally believe is the “Drug War” equivalent for this and the next decade, i.e. pointless, expensive, and doomed to fail).  And on and on.  And this isn’t even taking on such Fox “News”-driven nonsense as “unskewing polls”, or their claims about the size of the federal workforce under Obama (it’s decreased dramatically), and all their other crazy nonsense.

(I hate to break it to you, folks on the right, but we progressives have been right a lot. A lot more often than y’all.  You want me to go on?  Injecting capitalism into everything doesn’t work–for-profit prisons, colleges, and health care have all been an expensive disaster.  Industries don’t self-regulate; where pollution restrictions are relaxed, the air, water, and soil becomes more polluted because it is economically better to just keep polluting and pay fines than to clean up your factories; it’s cheaper to just ignore safety violations and let people die in coal-mine explosions and pay the fines; etc.  Printing money in certain situations such as a liquidity trap does not cause inflation.  And on and on.)

And yet, we’re still not taken seriously, despite our track record of accuracy and correctness.  Politicians make fun of us; our questions, comments, and opinions are cast aside as coming from “the crazy left”, even when we’re to the right of Eisenhower; the news media delights in running us down.

It’s even worse, because the way for nominally left-wing politicians to appear “tough” and “manly” (even when they’re women) is to bash them dirty hippies, and the mainstream media absolutely loves it.  I am not entirely sure why; trying to overturn accusations that they’re “too liberal” themselves (which is a load of hooey); embarrassment at their own individual liberal leanings; having been on the outs in high school and wanting to be accepted by the Kool Kids; I have no idea.  But it’s disgusting.  Doubly-disgusting given how often we’re right.  Not to mention the fact that lots of us have short hair, aren’t dirty, own houses, have jobs, are in long-term relationships, etc.  Triply-denigrating, you might say.

And the point is this–and it’s a disheartening one: It’s not enough to be right.  My side of the political spectrum has been right over and over and over for almost as long as I can remember, and 34 years on from “the Reagan revolution”, we’re still not listened to.  The only way you get listened to, apparently, is to use exactly the right words (“inner-city youth” instead of “damn n*ggers”), play to people’s fears, and keep calling the opposition liars even when the opposition is actually, ya know, correct.  (Climate change; endless wars; the effects of Obamacare; etc.)  We’re learning to do it, a bit; calling gay marriage “marriage equality” was a good move.  Referring to global warming as “climate change” was also smart, not to mention more accurate.  But when it comes to fear and demagoguery, the GOP really runs us ragged.

I like to think it’s because folks on the left are, at heart, more honest and good-hearted.  I know that I personally don’t want to resort to those tactics because I keep thinking that if I just lay the facts out for people, they’ll realize that they’ve been hoodwinked, fooled, and lied to, and accept the left-wing policies that have been and continue to help them with open arms.  But alas, I don’t think it’s possible.  But I keep hoping so, because the alternative is a right-wing-led national car crash, and to be honest, I really like this country and want it to succeed.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll do something to cheer myself up.  Watch “Singin’ in the Rain”, maybe, or some Chuck Jones cartoons.  Oy.

Lost Girl: A Guilty Pleasure You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About

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Images courtesy of Showcase Lost Girl site

We all have guilty pleasures. Maybe you’re a hardcore leftist intellectual whose partner publishes dense books on comparative religion and you read People Magazine on the sly; maybe you’re a professor of Music specializing in Medieval religious music and you follow Miley Cyrus on Twitter and have every one of her albums; maybe your an avowed fan and proponent of the detective novel as major literature, a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, and a regular speaker on the influence of Doyle on modern detective fiction, but you have every episode of Scooby Doo on your Tivo. I dunno what yours is; I just know that people have them.

For me it’s usually some TV show or other. I can rationalize it; for example, I can make a good case that my love of Kim Possible shows my feminist leanings, my support of girl empowerment, and come up with plenty of other pseudo-intellectual nonsense, but the truth is I watch it because it’s funny and Kim kicks ass.

But I want to mention one guilty pleasure that is in some ways truly remarkable: Lost Girl.

At first blush, this is your classic guilty pleasure. Vampires! Werewolves! Succubi! Conspiracy theories and lost civilizations and lots of fight scenes! Lots of hot women in tight leather outfits! Gratuitous ow-neckline cleavage shots!  Girl-on-girl make-out sessions!

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See?  Told ya.

And let’s just stop there and back up a minute. Because here’s the thing:

From a perspective of how women are treated and how GLB (no trans characters that I can remember) relationships are treated, it’s one of the most level-headed shows I’ve ever seen.

The most obvious thing is who this show is about:  A woman.  And her female live-in, non-sexual best friend.  And the main character’s girlfriend.  And her main protagonists:  The leader of the “dark” folks (that’s what they call themselves)–also a woman–and her long-lost mother (yes, a woman).   (And oh, yeah; her sort-of boyfriend the werewolf.)

Seeing a pattern here?

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The three main characters; what’s unusual for TV lead characters about this picture?

I haven’t even mentioned the many, many characters who are on for longer or shorter periods, like Linda Hamilton in a multi-show guest-starring role, or Rachel Skarsten as real-life valkyrie, or . . . well, you get the point.  LOTS of women, and front and center.  This show passes the Bechdel test with ease (although I’m sure there must be an episode somewhere in its five-year run that doesn’t).

And as a middle-aged guy who has always been aggravated by the way women’s roles in film and TV seem divided into two classes (ingenue, and mom), I’m absolutely thrilled that the powerful, strong, independent, sexy (it has to be said; she playing a succubus, for Pete’s sake!), tough, absolutely kick-ass woman who plays the lead is over 40 and (in real life) a mom.  A middle-aged woman who plays an independent person not mooning after some guy or is a mom?  Wow; who’d’a thunk?  And despite the “common wisdom” among Hollywood movie and TV types, it’s run for five seasons.  So put that in your sexist pipes and smoke it, you jerks!

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Lead character, Bo, preparing to kick ass

And finally, I’m incredibly pleased at how unremarked the treatment of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals this show presents.  The lead character is a bisexual woman who has had men, women, and sometimes both as partners and lovers.  Various other characters are straight, gay, or lesbian, and no one makes a big point of it; it’s just part of their character.  We don’t have situations like “Will and Grace” or “Ellen” or many other shows and movies where a big deal is made of the fact that this or that character is gay or lesbian or bi and oh my god shouldn’t we get a lot of credit for being so brave?  Nope; it’s just a natural part of how the characters are portrayed.  And in my opinion, that’s what we’re driving towards, right?  Where being GLBT is so normalized and unremarkable that we don’t, well, remark on it.  (And a lesbian actress plays a lesbian character; heaven forfend!)

Now yes, this show definitely falls into the “guilty pleasure” category in many ways.  Being Canadian, it can show more nudity than US programs, and it takes this as far as it can–lots of beautiful women and men in very revealing clothing.  (Oh yes; men too.  You should see the scene where Bo, the main character, visits her mother’s house and is served–and offered “services” by–her mother’s shirtless, tight-leather-pants-wearing, hunky Chippendale’s male “thralls”.)  Lots of cleavage and tight leather pants and sex scenes.  Not to mention plenty of fighting with swords and knives and fists, claws and cross-bows, you name it.  Our Heroine has a trunk filled with weapons.

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Beefcake on the hoof

So yes, “Lost Girl” is a guilty pleasure on one level, but on another, it’s quite a remarkable show.  If you at all like science fiction, fantasy, or strong, powerful, interesting lead characters, gender equality, and positively-presented (without a lot of self-congratulation) GLB characters and relationships, you might enjoy it, too.

Meetings, Smartphones, and You

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Image courtesy of Mobility Digest

Recently I read an interesting post/piece of advice on LinkedIn about smartphone use during meetings in the corporate environment. The author, Travis Bradberry, provides a number of observations (mostly negative) and recommendations (ditto) regarding the use–or non-use, I really should say–of smartphones in meetings.  It’s a thoughtful article, but it misses a few points and, because I’m a blowhard, I thought I’d share.

I’ve been in high tech for a long time, and as you might expect from a bunch of nerds, we like to have the latest gear.  (I remember vividly a meeting in the late 90s, when the first PDAs came out; the meeting concluded, and then every nerd in the room gathered around the guy who had a new PDA, peppering him with questions, wanting to play with it.  We love our tech, we nerds.)  The point being that smartphones probably filtered into the meetings I attend in advance of, say, Wall St. banker meetings or Madison Avenue ad team meetings or whatnot.  By 2008, every nerd in high tech probably had an iPhone or a not-unreasonable facsimile.  So I’ve had plenty of real-world experience on how tech use and meetings collide.

Meetings are hard.  Not “hard” in the sense that working 14 hours in the heat of a tobacco field is hard, or down in a coal mine, or even driving a truck.  But the purpose of a meeting is to get agreement on the items this particular group of people has to decide on, or relay some critical information to a group.  And the hard part is getting those done without petty bickering; boring the majority of the people (all at once or in turn as topics come up that only one or two people care about); pedantic descent into arcane details (engineers do this a lot); not getting agreement; losing control of the meeting so the key information isn’t relayed; and on and on.

By far the biggest risk for a meeting attendee–particularly when you’re attending a meeting run by someone several levels above you in the hierarchy–is massive, profound, unbelievable boredom.  This isn’t anyone’s fault; if executives didn’t meet with the “individual contributors” (as we working stiffs are called), they would (rightly) be seen as “out of touch”, so they need to “address the troops” on some kind of regular basis.  The problem with this is your typical executive sees the world from such a rarefied level, where everything is corporate profit and loss, meetings with other executives at other companies, trips to give talks at various industry events, meeting with high-level politicians, etc., that to an IC they are speaking of stuff that has very little to do with an IC’s day-to-day (or even year-to-year) life.  Sure, it’s important that they’re out there doing that stuff, getting government contracts, and so on, but you’re writing code/error checking code/writing documentation/creating marketing collateral/selling to other companies/doing IT work/etc., and that stuff, well, in a very real way it simply doesn’t matter.

Even when an exec is meeting with a small group, it’s important to remember that he (it’s almost always a “he”) has very little idea of what the people in the room with him do day-to-day.  In my field, I’ve met with many executives who had no idea what a tech writer even was, let alone what I did every day.  So as you might imagine, there’s a pretty big disconnect between the executive and the ICs in that room.  The executive wants to make contact, but the people are bored.  And what to do is always a challenge.  And your typical IC is constantly aware that every minute he or she spends in that room is one minute less spent fixing code/writing content/doing IT work/etc.  What to do?

Back in the day, people took notes in notebooks, on memo pads, on graph paper, etc.  Some physical method of keeping track of things.  And in those boring meetings, you could simply doodle, or work on your novel, or write sarcastic notes to yourself, or maybe polish off that thank-you note to granny.

Laptops, tablets, and smartphones are an absolute boon to the boring meeting issue.  If you can get away with bringing a full laptop–and this has become more acceptable over the years–and the meeting is such that your participation is unneeded other than your physical presence in the room, you can get work done, check your email, and even discreetly web surf (if you have the nerve).  That meeting time is much less wasted.  Yes, there was a big push to get people to leave their laptops behind for meetings, but over time people have recognized that a) It didn’t do much good, and b) Plenty of people take their notes on their laptops.  (In my case, I used an elective at age 12 in order to take typing, writing was such a laborious chore for me.)

(The “Agile stand-up”, by the way, is one attempt to battle this from two directions. On the one hand, these meetings are limited to 15 minutes, guaranteeing to the participants that any boredom will be short-lived.  And since you’re literally supposed to be standing up, using a laptop is pretty much impossible.)

But smartphones (and Blackberry’s back in the day) allow you to do Internet stuff anywhere, with a tiny device.  And as we’ve reached the saturation point with smartphones in the population (and you can guess how saturated the high tech industry is!), people have come to use their smartphones instead.  And this is really honking off some people, as Mr. Bradberry points out.  Unfortunately, some of the suggestions he makes, and the assumptions behind them, bear a bit more examination.

For example, Bradberry points out “The more money people make the less they approve of smartphone use.” Alas, the more money people make, the higher up they usually are in the corporation, and those folks tend to use their smartphones more during meetings than anyone.  (Some of them seem to be using them as another way in which execs show their importance to the peons–“Your puny meeting is not nearly as important as my daughter’s Instagram pic that she just texted me, but please do carry on.”)  There are a couple of issues here, the most obvious of which is the blatant double-standard.

But to be blunt, one issue is that meetings are too frequent, too long, too boring, and include people that they don’t need to. Executives and directors live by meetings–it’s a major part of their job–but individual contributors don’t, and forcing them to attend a ton of meetings is not an efficient use of their time. Certainly some amount of attendance is necessary to coordinate work, but in my experience the amount of meetings and meeting length is excessive. People break out their laptops, tablets, and smartphones in self-defense.  If you want to continue to see “productivity increases”, Mr. or Ms. Executive, you shouldn’t squawk when your employees are trying to squeeze in work during boring meetings.

Should people be playing Tetris or Minecraft of checking their Twitter feed while the VP is lecturing?  No; it’s rude.  But on the other hand, if the room falls asleep because the exec is speaking so far above their heads they can’t even see his tail-lights, that’s even more rude.  If you see a lot of smartphones out, might want to reality-check your agenda, or engage with your folks more directly.

So the second part of this is: Executives need to recognize that individual contributors are not thrilled to be taking time out of their day to watch power-point presentations and listen to (as Peter put it in “Office Space”) “eight different bosses drone on about mission statements”. Keep your meetings to the point, concise, and as short as absolutely possible. If you can end a scheduled 1-hour meeting in 20 minutes, your people will love you, and smartphone, tablet, and laptop use will plummet.

Bradberry cites some stats that I think are important to keep in mind:

  • 86% think it’s inappropriate to answer phone calls during meetings
  • 84% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during meetings
  • 66% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails even during lunches offsite

I have to agree that people answering calls during meetings seem rude.  But you know: I’ve done it.  Because my boy had injured himself and I needed to respond right away, or because my wife was in a dire situation because her car had broken down on the freeway.  I would like to see some stats, but I don’t get the sense that people answer their smartphones for any reason other than critical ones during meetings.  And (again in my experience) they leave the room so as to provide minimum disturbance.  In high tech, this doesn’t seem to bug people very much.  And honestly I think that’s because tech folks are more used to tech, and they have started to create etiquette to deal with the new smartphone reality.

Smartphone etiquette is still evolving. It was once verboten for folks to bring laptops to meetings; then we went through a period where it seemed that everyone was bringing their laptops but no one was paying attention; then a period where laptop use in many companies expressly forbidden during meetings (which was hell on me as I noted above). But now some people bring them for note taking, presenting information, etc., and some don’t, and those that do seem to better recognize that they need to practice active listening even when the lid on their device is open. Soon, it won’t be an issue. Smartphone use in meetings will evolve similarly, I predict. Smartphones are really only 7 years old; it will take a little time.

So in short, yes, ICs need to be aware that it honks people off to be seen taking out your smartphone, even if you’re using it for note-taking. But managers and execs need to also recognize that meetings are seen by ICs as (at best) a necessary evil, and do their part to keep them short, to the point, and infrequent.

That’s my worm’s-eye view, anyway.  (And I’m not the only one who feels this way.)

Beauty, Physical Shapes, and Our Twisted Societal “Requirements”

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Image courtesy of Box Six

Lots and lots and lots of people have written posts, articles, scholarly dissertations, and entire books about the standards of beauty that are pushed on our society by media from movies to newspapers to billboards to you name it.  It’s a bit presumptuous of me–to say the least–to think that I can add to that.  But recently an college/internet friend was lamenting the insanity of body image and just by losing a few pounds (not on purpose), suddenly she was getting lots of comments about how “skinny” she looked.

I’m glad that people are complimenting her, but the subtext here is really unfortunate. “Skinny” as the correct goal, as the only proper body type for a woman to have, as if those stick-like runway models you see posing in Calvin Klein or whatever are the epitome of feminine perfection.

It’s just as twisted in Hollywood, of course.  I’ve done a bit of research and found that the vast majority of Hollywood actresses are both tall (few under 5’8″), slender, and small-busted (B or A cup sized).  When a woman gets up to a C cup, suddenly she’s “curvy”; you get over that and they start calling you “full-figured” or “voluptuous”, which in Hollywood-speak–but not in the real world!–means “overweight”.  In a culture that calls Jessica Alba (5’7″, 125 pounds, B-cup) “curvy”, you know something is out of whack.  And women that are Belle Epoque-style like Christina Hendricks or Kat Dennings stand out so much that you can’t hardly read a profile of them without their size being mentioned.  It’s insane.

(The thing that struck me is that in a country where the average height of a woman is 5’4″-5’5″, anyone under 5’7″ is considered “short”.  I keep thinking Rachel McAdams is short, but she’s 5’5″, for pete’s sake!  And when you watch “Firefly”, Christina Hendricks looks like she’s quite short, but in reality she’s 5’8″–she’s just surrounded by a bunch of men who are all over 6′.  Which is a whole different conversation.)

I once opined to a friend of mine that I really appreciated seeing actresses that were built like women, with busts and hips and whatnot.  She almost hit me.  “Plenty of women are naturally thin!” she said.  “There’s no one build!”  And she was absolutely right and I had been stupid, and that’s basically the point of this whole rant:  We come in all sizes, and it doesn’t matter a damn bit what your size is or even how you look.  I have dated women varying from 6′ tall and very slender to under 5′ and very curvy, and who cares, you know?

When you love someone, or even just like hanging out with them, you will stop focusing on the inevitable imperfections–my chipped tooth; my thinning, graying hair; my over-abudnace of stomach fat, my lack of much of a chest or a six-pack (which I’ve never had); etc.–and start seeing mainly, or even only, those things that you like.  Maybe like an ex-gf, you are fascinated by the lion-like yellowish tinge at the center of my irises, or maybe you find my chip-toothed smile endearing, or maybe my perpetually rumpled look makes you feel comfortable.  Whatever.  It doesn’t matter, ultimately, because if you like the person, you’ll like things about their physical appearance.  You just will.  Or you’ll simply cease to notice it.

Now I would be an idiot if I said that looks and build and whatnot didn’t matter at all.  Of course they do; perforce, they’re the first thing you notice when you meet someone.  And of course you have preferences; everyone does.  But if you limit yourself by those, you’re ruling out a pretty wide swath of people that you might quite like, or even want to partner up with.  Just because I tend to prefer curvy brunettes and redheads doesn’t mean I haven’t dated slender blondes (or slender women in general); just because I like being significantly taller than a partner doesn’t mean I only dated short women and indeed, I married someone who in our wedding pics looks taller than me.  Etc.  It’s the person, you doofs.  They say beauty is only skin deep, and I have to say I agree with Rosie O’Donnell in “Beautiful Girls”:

Implants, collagen, plastic, capped teeth, the fat sucked out, the hair extended, the nose fixed, the bush shaved… These are not real women, all right? They’re beauty freaks. And they make all us normal women with our wrinkles, our puckered boobs, hi bob, and our cellulite feel somehow inadequate. Well I don’t buy it, all right? But you fucking mooks, if you think that if there’s a chance in hell that you’ll end up with one of these women, you don’t give us real women anything approaching a commitment. It’s pathetic. . . If you had an once of self-esteem, of self-worth, of self-confidence, you would realize that as trite as it may sound, beauty is truly skin-deep. And you know what, if you ever did hook one of those girls, I guarantee you’d be sick of her.

And it’s true, kids; it really is.  If the person you’re with is not someone you like talking to, believe me:  The morning after in bed is going to be damn awkward.

I don’t know how to change the warped perceptions of “Beauty” (with a capital “B”) coming out of media, but we can all do it one person at a time, right?  Stop judging those women by their slenderness or big boobs; stop judging that guy by his nice ass and awesome six-pack.  Listen to Rosie; those things fade.  Let’s all get a grip.

A Little (Well, Quite a Bit of) Windows Hate Venting

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Photo courtesy of ZDNet

So let’s get the caveats out of the way right up front, shall we?  First off, I am not a Mac acolyte (or MacAholic, or Mac Booster, or AppleHead, or whatever you call folks who think the sun rises and sets on Apple products).  Yes, we have a bunch of Apple products at our house, but that’s primarily because once I got an iPhone and Sami got her work Macbook, it just made life simpler to have everyone on the same OS.

At heart, I’m a UNIX nerd, and have been since the Reagan administration.  I’m perfectly comfortable with GUIs that run on top of UNIX (or UNIX-ish) systems, like the Linux GUI, or the Mac desktop, or (and especially) the late, lamented Silicon Graphics desktop.  But at heart, I’m a UNIX nerd who has VI keyboard shortcuts coded into my lizard brain.  It’s just how I am

But second, I don’t like Microsoft, the company.  I don’t like how they used their OS market dominance to force products on people and kill (often technologically superior) competitors; I don’t like how they steal ideas from anyone and everyone, change them slightly, and try to pass them off as their own.  And I most especially don’t like their huge, bloated desktop programs, which they seem to change every couple of years for no reason other than to update the color scheme or move menu items around.  (Or to add my least favorite GUI innovation ever:  “Ribbons“.  An opinion in which I’m hardly alone.)

To get to the point here:  For the last several years, I’ve been working on a Mac (for business reasons–I tend to work on what they give me, and haven’t owned my “own” system in a long time, unless you want to count my iPhone and iPad mini).  There are any number of things about the Mac interface that annoy me–and seriously, don’t get me started on that horrific piece of design known as iTunes–but in general I find the Mac user experience pretty solid.  In fact, it reminds me very much of my beloved SGI Indy box.  But recently I changed jobs and am back on a PC, and my Windows hate has surged once again to the fore.

Rather than get into all the ways that Windows drives me nutty–how hard it is to take screen caps compared to on a Mac, or the difference in complexity in deleting a program (on a Mac, you just drag the thing to the durn trash can!)–I can sum it up pretty quickly:  Defaults.

You know all those settings you can change in Windows?  The default font size of your emails; whether calendar alarms chime and with what sound; whether the top and sides of the screens perform that new “docking” maneuver; etc.  All those options have settings put in by Microsoft out of the box.  Those are the defaults.  And for me, the difference between the (SGI) Irix GUI and Mac desktop, and the Microsoft desktop, is that Microsoft sets all those defaults wrong.

No, I don’t want all those noises, chimes, and alarms to sound for all those applications.  No, I don’t want click noises when I move Windows around.  (I find Windows so noisy I keep the desktop muted all the time.)  No, I don’t want Internet Explorer to be my default browser.  No, I don’t want “ribbons” fully opened in all my apps by default.  No, I don’t want all my past emails “grouped by date”, I just want a flat list.  (And you can’t even set that to be the default; you have to change it for every single mailbox by hand!)  No, I don’t want the email list to be a stack; I want it to be a stack, with the most recent item at the bottom of the list, not the top (and when I reset it, please open it that way the next time I fire up Outlook.)  Etc.

And then there’s that little “Windows” button that everyone has on their keyboards.  OK, fine, but it’s right near the shift and control keys, which means half the time I try to use keyboard shortcuts, I get the Start menu instead.  It got so bad at a previous job, I actually pried the damn key off my keyboard.

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The keyboard in question

Of course, there are other little annoyances as well that drive me nuts.  That you have to click in a window before you can scroll in it; a Magic Mouse on a Mac will scroll any window, no matter where you clicked last.  Or how hard it is to kill an application in Windows vs. Mac–in Windows, you have to open the task manager, where on a Mac you can just right-click that sucker.  But in the main, it’s those damn defaults.

Yeah, sure; some of those settings are wrong on the Mac, too.  But the majority of them, they’re fine.  On Windows?  I spend the first day or two resetting a whole bunch of defaults so that I don’t get annoyed every time I try to perform the simplest actions.

Some of you more savvy tech folks out there are saying, “What’s the big deal, Doug?  So they set up the defaults in a way you hate; you can always change them!”  Yup, that’s true.  I could argue that the fact that I have to spend the first couple of days on a new system changing all the defaults strongly implies they’ve screwed up on their choices pretty badly, but I won’t.  The real problem is:  Figuring out how to change these defaults is practically impossible.

There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, there is a veritable ocean of default settings, and when you’re looking for one drop of water in an ocean–or even in a bathtub–it’s going to take you a long time to find it.  And it turns out that Microsoft’s inability to correctly guess what their users are going to need on a default basis extends to where they put their various system settings.  For example, you know that thing the desktop does when you drag a window to the top of the screen and it plunks it into full-screen mode?  That’s a feature set by default, called a “hot spot”.  It allows for auto-sizing and docking, and some people really like it.

Me, it drives crazy, so I wanted to turn it off.  It’s similar to the fact that when you launch new programs they always pop up on top of whatever windows are on your desktop.  Hey, if I launch a program that takes forever to come up, and then go into another window to do something else, I don’t want that damn program to grab control of my screen!  I tiled a different window to the top on purpose!  Similarly, if I want my window to go to full screen mode, I’ll do it myself, thanks.  Most of the time, I just want it to go to the durn top of the screen!

So okay, I want to turn it off.  Where is that?  Why, in the most obvious place imaginable!  You go to the Ease of Access Center from the Start menu (which is no longer labeled “Start”, I might add), select “Make the mouse easier to use”, and click a radio button labeled “Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen“.  Yeah, that’s right; under a mouse settings location.  Intuitive, no?

No.

As a rule of thumb, let me just say this to you UI designers out there:  If your users have to go to Google to find out how to modify settings in your app, a) your app design is a failure, and b) your online help system sucks.  (And seriously:  You don’t want me to start on the lameness that is the MS help system.  When a user doesn’t know if she’s going to get pop-up windows, a separate help window, or get sent to the browser and the MS web site, you’ve got a screwed-up system.)  Just sayin’.

And for me that pretty much extends to the entire OS; it is a rare day when something I’m looking for is where I first look.  Or the second location.  Or even the third.  The vast majority of the time I have to pull up the help window.  How is this intuitive interface design?  Does Microsoft even have a user experience team?

Bet it saves them a ton of money, thought.

I’m not an engineer.  I trained as one, sure, but I’m not one.  But I’ve had a ton of experience in fiddling with new user interfaces, and on this, Windows really tanks.  And I know I’m not alone in thinking this.

[puff puff]  Okay; I’ve gotten that out of my system.  For now, anyway.

 

High Tech Sexism

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Image courtesy of Business Insider

The high tech world is kind of a funny place.  (Aside from the fact that it’s populated by geeks, I mean.)  On the one hand, nerds don’t really care much about you so long as you’re a nerd.  Black, white, Asian, Indian; male, female, trans; gay, straight, questioning; monogamous or polyamorous; kinky or vanilla; sci fi or fantasy or romance or “lit-ruh-chure” or detective novels; it doesn’t really matter to a computer nerd.  If you can code and fit in with the nerd coding culture, you’re fine, you’re golden.

On the other hand, that culture was created largely by young, straight, white, middle- and upper-class men, even boys (maturity-wise).  So the only way to fit in is to model the behavior of that group.  Which for me–as a straight, white, middle-class male who got a degree in computer science from UC–wasn’t that hard.  But for a lot of others?  Well, the problem here is obvious.

For my entire career it’s been clear that there’s rampant sexism (among other inherent bigotries) in the high tech culture.  As this culture has developed heavily from nerd programming culture, when you think about it, it’s not very surprising.  And lately, there has been a lot more focus on this.  Articles on how women are treated in high tech; articles on the low number of women taking engineering degrees; articles on how few women stay in the engineering track in the high tech industry; articles on the dearth of female high-tech CEOs; articles on women being intimidated and pressured when they speak out about the obvious sexism.

None of this comes as a surprise to me.  What does surprise me, frankly, is how so many folks are trying to either defend this aspect of the culture, or wave away the accusations.  I think the nature of these defenses can be summed up by this person’s (a white male, naturally; probably straight, Christian, and middle-class too) comment on an article in HuffPo about how 40% of female engineers leave the field:

Most male engineers have similar complaints, and leave the profession too. As the old saying goes; “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen”.

Look:  I’ve been in high tech my whole career, over 27 years now.  I love it.  I love the people, and the cool new tech I get to see all the time; I love being on the “bleeding edge” of tech development; I love that the world has come to recognize the value of what my nerdly brothers and sisters are doing, and to even give us acclaim.  I wouldn’t want to do anything else.  But I have to say to folks like the gentlemen above:  STFU.  I have seen unbelievable, rampant sexism in this culture.  At all levels, from executives down to junior hackers, in ways both blatant and subtle, from giant multi-nationals down to tiny startups, it’s an anti-female culture, and it’s disgusting.  And to wave off that fact is doubly disgusting.

Before you make flip comments, create false equivalences about how it’s “just as bad for male engineers”, pretend that there’s really no sexism, how about you do this:  Spend several years having the first thing out of people’s mouths be a comment on your clothes, hair, or appearance (When was the last time you heard a guy at work tell another guy, “Hey, nice blouse!” or “I like what you did with your hair”, or “Are you wearing makeup”?).  Go to dozens of meetings over the course of a decade or two where every time you tried to speak or bring up a topic, solution, or idea some guy spoke right over you or the moderator basically just ignored you.  Endure years of snarky, snide, or derogatory comments about how often you’ve had to come in late, leave early, work at home, or take vacation days to deal with family issues (while your male co-workers simultaneously get praised as being “good dads!” for doing exactly the same things).

How about you spend years or even decades receiving 10-20% less salary than male co-workers doing literally exactly the same job?  How about you suffer through a few months of dealing with the hostility and anger of your co-workers because of your need to take time off after you give birth (not to mention ignorant comments about how you should “just deal with it” while suffering postpartum depression).  Or maybe enjoy the delightful emotions of watching men with less experience and qualifications promoted over you multiple times.

I have seen all this, consistently, everywhere.   At meetings large and small, in companies huge and tiny, all the time.  It’s consistent.  Yes, you can squawk that this is “anecdotal evidence”, and it is.  Of course, it’s completely validated by every single woman in high tech I’ve ever spoken to on the topic, from low-level folks toiling away on front-line phone support to high-powered VPs.  Often when I make these observations they snort or roll their eyes; it’s so obvious to them, it’s like they can’t believe it’s news to the likes of me.  That’s how prevalent it is, how entrenched.

I’m proud–incredibly proud–of what my industry has and continues to contribute to the country and the world.  I love the attitude so many of us have that every problem can be solved, if we just apply enough brainpower and tech to it (as misguided as that sometimes can be).  I love working in this industry.  But that doesn’t blind me to the rampant, horrific sexism (and often racism, homophobia, and other bigotry) that it contains.  So instead of trying to wave it away, or pretend it’s not so bad, or arrogantly and condescendingly telling women to “suck it up,” we do something about it?

And folks, the first step on “doing something” is to admit we have a problem.  Until we do that, we ain’t getting nowhere.  So let’s admit the problem, and get going, shall we?

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