Discouragement in IT

I was relieved to see this thoughtful series of tweets last Sunday that Micahel Dexter commented on:

Given the amount of in-your-face discouragement I receive from a handful of people on a regular basis, I can only imagine it is 1000X worse for newcomers and non-privileged-white-guys. Rest assured your instincts are almost always correct.

It was in response to this tweet by @Jtu on the conduct and views of several prominent members of the free software community, to put it mildly. We’re told that women just aren’t interested in IT, but how many of them mentally checked out or moved on in response to how these people act? And also tragically, what creative energy and intelligence have we lost in the process?

I can speak from experience that it’s been a huge struggle to finally start contributing to software projects. Given how much nasty, condescending, rude junk I used to have flung at me back when I had blog comments enabled, and more recently from dull trolls on social media, the temptation was there to work silently in my little anonymous silos. It’s mentally exhausting having to constantly justify your decisions and existence.

And as Michael says, both of us are still on the easy mode compared to what so many people have to endure.

As one example, my partner Clara once told me that she envied my appearance. Whereas I could just waltz into a job interview and immediately look the part, she felt as though she had to prove she even belonged before discussing her qualifications and experience. She’s just a cute Chinese girl, what would she know about programming? She had internalised it to such an extent until I told her how I’d had mine, and she couldn’t believe it.

We have a husband and wife client at work who chose us over another cloud provider because I spoke to her as the engineer the entire time, instead of instinctively talking to the husband who had no IT background at all. The fact she even needed to point it out and thank me afterwards gave me but a tiny glimpse into the nonsense she must otherwise need to deal with.

I have an inkling that toxic members of the IT community are attractive to people the same way Mr Orange is for so many American voters, and Morrison in Australia. People see them as stalwarts against politically-correct speech, who voice their mind and tell it how it is. Except it’s almost never how it is, it’s just inflammatory bullshit. And those edgy social media commentators who troll and end threads with “lol jk” are just as bad.

Ultimately it demonstrates how immature this industry still is, and we’ll keep paying the price for it.

SortedFood Mystery Box with liquorice

From one of their delightful chefs versus normals installments back in January.

... rehydrated sultanas and a liquorice mustard vinaigrette
(View of the other delightful SortedFood gents looking on intently)
Aren't rehydrated sultanas just grapes?


Stack Exchange changing licences

I’m starting to see a trend amongst websites employing free and/or open source licences, and it’s concerning. The Stack Exchange network announced a licence change for user-submitted content a week ago:

Effective today, all Subscriber Content on Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange network will be available under the terms of version 4.0 of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) license.

I thought I must have missed something. I’ve been involved in software licence changes before, and it’s a tedious but necessary process of notifying all the contributors and getting their approval. And this was for projects of only a few dozen people; certainly nothing at the scale of Stack Exchange.

The top voted answer by Makyen points out the obvious:

Stack Exchange doesn’t have the right to unilaterally change the license of previously submitted content.

Numerous comments to the original announcement, and other answers below, linked to Stack Exchange’s Terms of Service that grants additional rights. But that still doesn’t alter the fact Creative Commons does not permit licence changes without consent.

The Creative Commons wiki suggests two ways Stack Exchange could have arranged this:

upon upload by contributors, have a prompt box to obtain agreement to relicense previous uploads; [or] general outreach to contributors seeking agreement to upgrade.

Contrast Stack Exchange’s unilateral decision to how Wikipedia implemented Creative Commons in addition to the GNU Free Documentation License and prior versions of Creative Commons. That’s how you do it legally, while also respecting the people for whom your site wouldn’t exist without. Sure they didn’t pay you with money, but they gave you their time.

This leads me to think a few things:

  1. Licences and their implementation must be complex enough if even large websites run afoul of them;

  2. Protections granted by licences, even if well intentioned, mean little if sites like this deem them mutable, and you don’t have the legal resources to defend them. So therefore;

  3. If you want to own your own media, and how it’s distributed, you need to self-publish. As soon as you give it to another site, it can be changed. You might be fine with that, as I often am; but if you’re not, give these meat-grinder sites a hard pass.

It comes with its own set of challenges, but damn if I don’t see justifications for decentralisation and distribution of knowledge and expertise in cases like this. I also hear a little of Michael W. Lucas’s BSD-licence justification echoing in my ear for all the points, but that’s for another post.

Deciding on a bank based on their mobile apps

Clara and I will be overseas again in a couple of weeks, so we decided to revisit our travel bank accounts. It’s critical to have a bank account without foreign ATM or transaction fees, while also having it separate from your primary account in case you’re skimmed or have your wallet nicked.

A few foreign banks in Australia now offer global accounts where you can hold multiple currencies. You can hedge forex with them, which is nice if you know a central bank rate cut is about to hit before you leave. But they’re the most useful for letting you spend in the local currency of the country you’re visiting. That way you save on fees, you can use a debit card in stores, and it’s easier to track expenses.

Or at least, I thought it would be. I signed up to a household-name bank earlier this week to get one of these global accounts, and while their desktop internet banking is passable, their mobile application is, without any peer or contest, the absolute worst one I’ve ever used. My local credit union-esque bank has but a tiny fraction of their holdings and profits, and theirs is so much better it isn’t even a contest.

Banks like to think they’re competing on features, interest rates, and brand awareness. But I wonder if they realise how much money they’re leaving on the table if they have horrible applications? I’d go as far as to say I’d sacrifice interest and perks to go to another bank with decent software. Maybe that shows I’m a fiscal sucker, but life’s too short to deal with bad stuff when so many other banks do a great job.

Fixing Hugo pagination in 0.58

The latest Hugo static site generator version broke pagination for all my sites, including this one. This is how I previously filtered content so only posts would appear in pagination, as per the documentation:

{{ $paginator := .Paginate (where .Pages "Type" "post") }}
{{ range $paginator.Pages }}

This now returnes a single page with the word Posts shown, and nothing else. I changed to the generic pagination method below and it worked, so the issue was with the above lookup.

{{ range .Pagination.Pages }}

I saw this thread on the Hugo forums, which had example code by funkydan2 replacing .Pages with site.RegularPages. This worked.

{{ $pages := where site.RegularPages "Type" "post" }}
{{ $paginator := .Paginate $pages }}{{ range $paginator.Pages }}

I broke the lookup out into a separate line to make it nicer, but you can just do a replace with the original documented code and it works.

Niggling changes like this aside, Hugo is still the best static-site generator I’ve ever used. I do miss the Liquid template system of Jekyll, but Hugo generates more than six thousand posts in seconds, as opposed to more than fifteen minutes. I wonder how much wasted power I’ve saved on remote servers since making the switch.

Cape Town Civic Centre

I recently dreamed that I was waiting for a train near a large office building. The tower seemed to shrink as I walked passed it down the platform, which I realised was due to it being slender in proportion to its length. Dreams being what they are, the only other thing I could remember was that it looked awfully 1970s, down to its brown windows and tan exterior.

Fast forward to today, and I was reading the Cape Town article on Wikipedia, like a gentleman. And low and behold, check out the Cape Town Civic Centre, as taken by Vectorebus:

I feel as though it could have been a Starfleet building in one of the Kirk-era movies; maybe the Federation Academey of Sciences or something.

Please don’t use fixed-position navigation bars

I haven’t hidden my distaste for what I dub regressive web design. Auto-playing and looping background videos, hamburger icons, newsletter prompts, chat bots; they’re the pop-up windows and <MARQUE> elements of the 2010s, with all the hard-fought lessons we learned from the late 1990s thrown out the proverbial airlock, gasping for air like me when I started going to the gym. There’s a mental image we all didn’t need.

And speaking of things we don’t need, the other of these regressive trends is fixed-positioned navigation and social media links, which I raised in March last year:

The good news is all of these elements use fixed positioning, so its easy enough to target them with a toolbar bookmarklet like Kill Sticky Headers. If you fixed position anything in your CSS, I’d wager you it’d be greatly improved if you didn’t.

This hit a nerve on Twitter at the time. People angry on Twitter, really?! Much of the pushback were either from trolls, or web designers who listed off workarounds without addressing the core problem, as all of us in IT are want to do. But a few, in good faith, wanted to know why some of us don’t like persistent elements on our screens.

It’s nothing groundbreaking: it messes with your effective viewport. You see less information because you’re viewing the site through a smaller window; which especially sucks on mobile. On the desktop, it breaks Page Up, Page Down, and Spacebar for scrolling, and adds needless visual clutter.

But these concerns pale in comparison to what the real problem is with this stuff, as Amy Carney tweeted last Sunday:

Please, please, PLEASE, stop designing sticky headers & footers #WebDev. Your trick leaves us, who need to increase text size or zoom in, with only a few lines to read at a time. It’s just as annoying as ads that monopolize the screen. -Sincerely, the visually impaired. #a11y

Now, just as fast food instantly becomes gourmet upon shoving caviar and gold leaf on it, you can carefully code fixed-position navigation to behave better, be less annoying, and more accessible. But the best approach is to remove them.

Housing as an asset class

Scott Ludlam:

what happens when you treat housing as a tax-sheltering asset class to be bid up by investors. housing is unaffordable by design, not by accident. when the business press cheers a ‘strong’ housing market, thats the sound of poverty being locked in.

The Sony StorStation Ditto tape drive

Everyone knew Iomega’s colourful Zip, Jaz, and Ditto drives in the 1990s, but fewer were aware that Iomega allowed third parties to manufacturer their media under licence. My dad bought me FujiFilm Zip disks in primary school because they were a bit cheaper in packs of ten, and I saw a few co-branded laptop drives back in the day.

Today I learned Sony rebranded the Ditto tape drive as the StorStation, not to be confused with their more recent tape devices. It had the same enclosure as the maroon Ditto but was coloured beige instead:

Thanks to dig_in_and_dig_on eBay for listing this rare find. I’d buy it for my vintage peripheral collection, but it’s already ludicrously overstocked as it is; especially for someone pretending to get rid of stuff.

C2C Genius as “jitters”

It’s Music Monday once again. I don’t know much about this band or song, all I know is a colleague has played it bunch of times, and I misheard the lyric as “jitters”. I thought he was saying I drank too much coffee.

Play C2C - Genius (feat. Gush)