Starting over is often a difficult, but necessary, way to revitalize yourself. When I was in middle school, I wrote a column in my school’s student newspaper talking about video games. I’ve been writing since before I was coding, but lately the coding has superceded the importance of writing in my life. I haven’t been content with this for a long time, and have been trying a variety of strategies to make myself write more. My personal blog, SteveStreza.com, has acted somewhat as the outlet for this, and it has succeeded in getting me to write long-form articles, but it has largely failed at producing shorter and more frequent content. But the opposite side of that is a lack of focus and a burden of further long-form content. I love writing, but the hole in what I have been writing has been bothering me for awhile.
So today, I’m beginning a new experiment, Informal Protocol. This new blog is focused around the topics of development, design, tech, and culture. The goal is to keep most articles at 5 paragraphs or fewer, and to have at least one new post a day. But as the name implies, this is an informal protocol, and won’t always be followed. Quantity and quality will have peaks and valleys, and the focus may skew one way or another. It’s wholly possible the direction may drift and this becomes something else entirely. But hey, sometimes you just have to give it a shot.
Informal Protocol is an experiment. Like all experiments, it may fail. But sometimes you have to just jump face first into a new adventure and start over. If you would like to join me on this adventure, you can follow new posts at Informal Protocol via RSS, App.net, or Twitter.
Server teams are made up of the people who write and maintain the code that makes servers go, as well as those who keep that code working. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, Google, and every other service in the world have one or more people in this role. When things go right, nobody notices, and they get no praise. When things go wrong, their phones ring at 3 in the morning, they're up fixing a new issue, and they're answering calls from every cog in the corporate ladder who's screaming about how much money they're losing. It's a thankless job.
Diablo 3's launch has had a number of issues around load. When you have millions of people swarming on a server, ruthlessly trying to log in every few seconds, it causes a huge amount of load. At this scale, things you expect to go right suddenly break in strange and unfamiliar ways. No amount of load testing could adequately prepare the server team behind Diablo 3 for firepower of this magnitude. The way you fix these kind of issues is to look at what's slow, fix it to make it less slow, and hope it works. Do this until load stops being a problem. Oh, and you have to do it quickly, because every second that goes by people are getting more and more upset. And you can't break anything else while you do it.
The people who work on the servers for services of any decent scale cope with new problems every day around keeping the thing alive and healthy. The Diablo server team has been moving quickly, solving issues of massive scale in a short time, and getting the service running again. Players notice and yell the service when it stops working, but the response to it and the maintenance of it has been quick and effective.
Next time you're using an Internet service, or playing a multiplayer game, think about the people who keep it running. If you know any of these people, tell them thanks. They're the unsung heroes of the Internet.
Adobe is finally putting an end to Flash Player. They've announced they're stopping development of the mobile Flash Player, which is where the future of tech innovation is heading, and the writing is on the wall for desktop Flash Player as well. This is a good thing for a myriad of reasons, both technical and political.
However, it is important to remember that Flash drove much of the innovation on the web as we know it today. When Flash was conceived over a decade ago, the web was a glimmer of what it is today. Creating something visually impressive and interactive was almost impossible. Flash brought the ability to do animation, sound, video, 3D graphics, and local storage in the browser when nothing else could.
Flash Player itself seemed like a means to an end. Macromedia, and then Adobe who acquired them, sells the tool that you use to build Flash content. Thus, Adobe's incentive was not to build a great Flash Player, but a pervasive one that would sell its tools. Its technical stagnation provided a market opportunity for browser developers to fill in the gaps that Flash provided. As a result it has a huge market dominance in tools for building rich apps for the web, tools HTML5 lacks.
HTML5 offers developers the ability to build high-performance, low-power apps and experiences. Browser innovation has never been faster; Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla are all competing to bring the best new features to their browsers in compatible ways. But they're just now filling in many features Flash Player has had for years. Adobe can harness this to help build a better web, and few others can. Hopefully they seize this moment.
It seems like every other week I'm reading a blog post from a person who went to a tech conference, or a meetup, or heard a talk, and was rightly offended that someone made a tactless joke about women, either about women in general or about specific women. It is disheartening to hear that any group would be made to feel less worthy of respect in our circle, especially at a time when our industry is undergoing one of the most massive and impactful revolutions in decades, and at a time when we need new blood the most. Every person in our industry should be fighting for inclusivity and should welcome new members with open arms and helpful tutorials. Why there aren't more people pushing for this, I don't know.
It is equally saddening to hear so many respectable people jump to conclusions about what your actual motives might be when trying to have an adult discussion about this sensitive subject. I'll make no qualms about it; I'm a born-middle-class white guy, so right off the top, there will be people who will read this under the pretext that I'm either a misogynist or that I'm some kind of "Internet white knight". As a middle-class white guy, my exposure to injustice and inequality has been limited. I cannot possibly know how it feels to hear words thrown around that minimize the role of women in tech. But I also have rarely been a presenter; who am I to say that I know what Noah Kagan's motives were when he put "faceless bitch" on a slide at a recent conference? He could've been trying to lighten the mood, he could have a vendetta against women in tech. I don't know.
I'm inclined to believe that incidents like this, such as where women are mocked by a presenter, are isolated events perpetuated by a non-representative group of a few people. When I go to conferences, I keep an active ear open for slurs against women, and have yet to hear any. But what's fascinating to me is how women are the group continually called out. A demographic survey created by A List Apart shows that women made up 17.8% of respondents; the same study also showed that Asians, blacks, and Hispanics each represented no more than 6% of the group (which is itself a completely separate topic of inequality that seems to be forgotten in these discussions). Yet women are the demographic so frequently mocked and shamed. It probably boils down to sex and the fact that the people that connect to this industry tend to be more introverted, but I don't know.
The only two things that unite everyone in this industry are that 1) we are all fascinated with high technology, and that 2) we are all humans. As humans we have cognitive biases which prejudice us towards recognizing things the way we'd like them to be. So when we hear that, over the course of several conferences, jokes were made that denigrate women, we're biased to believe that these events are misogynistic in nature, and that repeated incidents show a trend of sexist men trying to keep out women. It's possible that's what's happening; I think the truth is that these people generally are poor communicators and entertainers put into a role of communicating and entertaining, and failing. But I don't know.
I don't know the solutions to the problems we face, but I do know a few things that we all can do better, no matter what subset of demographics you belong to.
- Actively call out unacceptable remarks when they're perpetuated at the expense of any group within our community. Whether that's at the expense of women, men, Android fans, Windows fans, Apple fans, anyone. There is no logical reason for our fledgling industry to show animosity towards any group.
- Fight the groupthink mentality to label anyone who screws up . Nobody is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Few people are truly evil and rotten. I'm reminded of this YouTube video on race; watch, but replace "racist" with "sexist". Address what they did, not who they are. Let's address individual problems without calling into question someone's motives, unless someone makes the same mistake over and over without remorse.
- Consider not just on how your message is delivered, but also on how it will be perceived. Your audience will contain not only women, but members of every race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Joking at the expense of other groups is juvenile and unbecoming, and will reflect negatively not only on the speaker but on the tech community as a whole.
- Mentor young people who are interested in high technology, and help them learn how to become successful and open-minded. This is something that we should be doing a better job of as an industry as a whole. A teenager who wants to become a software engineer will learn acceptance if they are accepted into a group dominated by grown-ups.
More non-middle-class-white-guy people in our industry will only benefit everyone, from developers to designers to companies to customers. We must be vigilant to keep prejudice out and embrace every single person who wants to contribute to this revolution. But we must be similarly careful not to vilify people for mistakes; hindsight is, after all, 20/20. Of course, maybe I'm wrong. I just don't know.
Be excellent to each other.
Thanks to Faruk Ateş, who has spoken at length on this issue, for his feedback on this post.
Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011 in Pakistan. It marked the end of a manhunt that lasted many years, against a man who funded and conspired to commit several attacks against many countries. bin Laden was the iconic figurehead of Al Qaeda, a brand which inspires fear worldwide. As time led on, it became increasingly less realistic to assume that he would ever face justice. His actions led to two (arguably three) wars conducted by the United States and allies against nations in the Middle East. The world watched Sunday night as President Obama said that his military action succeeded where two the prior presidents had failed at stopping public enemy #1.
I've reflected on this moment a lot over the last couple of days, and have had much difficulty in coming to conclusions on it. Was bin Laden's death justified? I believe it was, given his actions against humanity. Was it morally justifiable to have him assassinated by a Navy SEAL strike team? Probably. Should he have faced jury trial like Saddam Hussain? Ideally, yes, but if the people in the house were firing back at the SEALs, they'd have to defend themselves. Is it equally justifiable to celebrate and revel in the death of bin Laden? I don't think so. Celebration of death, especially one conducted by a government without a trial, is inhuman and barbaric; it inspires hatred of others, which perpetuates the cycle of terrorism.
But my moral decisions are based on my own past. I don't even remember the 1998 US Embassy bombings that bin Laden's al Qaeda conducted (I was only 11 years old then). My conclusions would certainly be different if I lost someone on 9/11, or if I lost family members in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. Many others have provided their own insights, such as the fact that Obama did not attempt to bring him to trial. This is too complex an issue affecting too many people personally for it to have a simple right or wrong answer. Some things are neither right nor wrong.
What is right about all of this is that the symbolic head of the hydra of Al Qaeda (and by extension, of fundamentalist Muslim terrorism) has been cut off. To the United States, a symbol that inspires bigotry, hate, xenophobia, and fear of Muslims in the Middle East no longer exists. The face that has risen over the last two years from the ashes of the Iranian election and the uprisings in Egypt, Libya, and others is one of democracy and of youth. While the death of bin Laden will not suddenly cause racists to be less racist, it does have the potential for the US to come to a greater acceptance of those in the Middle East. And that's morally right, it's beautiful, and it's inspiring.
In 2011, with Twitter and Facebook and SMS, we have the ability to blurt out our thoughts with little reflection. This event is not one that has a good or evil label, and one's position should not be a knee-jerk reaction to how you feel in the moment. It is worthy of reflection by everyone, as everyone has invariably been affected by bin Laden's actions in some way. This event has changed the course of some small part of history, and the true effects will be felt many years down the road.