Blog: Ethics and Friends and Sponsors

Ethics and Friends and Sponsors
Ethics and Friends and Sponsors
Date: 2018-Jun-10 21:31:43 EST

This last week I figured out the details of hosting a Chaos Eng meetup in my workplace - it's very doable. I might want to wait until the 2nd floor of 162 is done (likely end of July), but I could also do it in a classroom. Neat. I'm thinking it'd be interesting to run a tech meetup, but out of ethical concerns, I'd like to do it independent of Gremlin because they're a vendor. I know it's probably a bit pedantic to draw lines, but in all things I think it's good to be wary of certain kinds of ethical entanglements, and I think in the long term if everyone plays by these rules some kinds of drama or impropriety is avoided. I've sometimes found orgs and people who are offended by this - don't hire a friend or a relative? Makes you a bad person. And so on. But that to me is a taste of the mess one gets into by not avoiding those entanglements.

I wish I were better at getting enough feelings of relaxation from the weekends. I'm just not good at resting, or relaxing. I spent a good part of yesterday at the Coney Island beach, napping. Which was nice, but I still didn't feel rested. And I still don't. Helps that I like my job and it's not particularly wearing, but I still wish I could somehow capture a genuinely refreshed mind and body. Doesn't seem available anymore.

I'm pretty excited about the further discovery of organics on Mars by the MSL-Curiosity. And it's neat to read about the intended capabilities of its successor, what has what I assume is a tenative name of Mars2020. I don't want to pin my hopes on discovery of (past or present) life on Mars, but damn if it isn't an interesting question. Stuff like this really feels like the point of our species - to understand.

California is pretty amazing at trying out the dumbest ideas. This we will try not to call the police again idea is one of them. I have occasionally heard milder forms of this argument - that people should be reluctant to call police when minorities are involved, on the assumption that the risks are too high for them in terms of discriminatory treatment. I reject even that. Both out of principle - it's a form of bigotry (even if there is some mild statistical evidence, I would likewise not decide to avoid doing business from someone from a poor part of town on the idea that some kinds of criminality are more common there, even with evidence) and because I feel we really have no alternative so we'd best focus on improving correctness of police action where we see problems, rather than giving up on them. A society without police won't work (although some of their coping mechanisms for their bad idea sound fairly productive).

Recently had occasion to read about weebles (the wobbly toy from the 90s). Having reminded myself why they work, I realise I've learned this before, with this particular topic as the inspiration for learning about center of balance the first time. Fascinating to have forgotten that and to follow the same line of curiosity to reopen that topic that time closed.

This article about Mr Rogers and his way of speaking was interesting. I don't advocate people generally try to live under a speech discipline - it's a heavy burden and limits self-expression and comfort and ways of dispersing stress. In particular circumstances (e.g. a debate, or his show) it's appropriate, and it's fascinating seeing the care he took to maintain it. I grew up with his show's practices bouncing around in my head, and while in adulthood I may be slightly wary of his involvement in Christianity, I still have deep goodwill towards the (deceased) man.

My thoughts on the cake case lead me with a nuanced pro-baker position based on the sevice being custom; I don't want to compel speech. That said, on this matter, where someone doesn't want gays to shop somewhere, strikes me as unacceptable. There is no excuse not to provide the same, non-performance, non-custom sale of goods; I expect and hope to see it prevented.

I am endlessly frustrated by stupid things said by people at my former employer, MongoDB, on the topic of relational databases. From their earnings calls to SEC filings, there are statements (like "every app needs a database", or "relational databases can process data, but they have a 30 year old design and can't scale") that are deeply ignorant of the way the market works, and I strongly suspect this nonsense comes from Eliot Horowitz and nobody's correcting it internally because they mostly hire people straight out of college, people who have never learned a variety of databases. It just keeps coming, and they should know better.

The H1-B is pretty complex as a topic for me. The big tech companies are basically lying about the necessity to hire foreigners for jobs (they could just as easily find people locally, and they turn down people because their interview pipelines are broken because everyone's is), and that bugs me, but that said, it's probably in the national interest to keep granting lots of H-1B visas anyway; in terms of immigration these are the most desirable people to have lining up to come here and become residents and perhaps citizens. We're significantly injuring ourselves to restrict that. I can understand cracking down on a number of other forms of immigration (I'd probably refuse all refugees and lottery-based immigration, for starters), but this? No. I'd probably accept a practically unlimited H-1B immigrants and fast-track them to be citizens if they want. We could even, without justice concerns, achieve some other beneficial social ends along the way, for example attaching strings to where they can live (e.g. you can't settle or work in California, in order to force decentralisation of tech).

I am glad to see Valve "giving up on responsibility", as this unfortunate article suggests, because that equates to acting as a fairly neutral marketplace, which sits best with my notions of free speech and marketplace neutrality. Bravo.

This article pushing an "anti-semitism awareness act", seems like it would be a very bad precedent. The idea being that existing laws mandating investigation of anti-semitic intimidation has been hampered by no clear definition of anti-semitism. Reasonable concern, but the definition the act offers is overbroad. First, in my view it must not consider rhetorical attacks on Judaism; secular advocacy including mockery of faith should not be considered possibly harassment (existing notions of harassment without awareness of those topics - namely things akin to stalking and other unwanted interaction - should be sufficient), and secondly, Israel as a topic must be detached entirely from consideration in these matters. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be unhappy with Israel, either in its acts or its existence. Giving special protection or consideration to it as a topic is unwarranted and stifling. The article correctly argues that free speech cannot be overridden by a law, but free speech as a legal concept is both distinct from free speech as a social norm, and it is erodible by notions of harassment - an existing exception to our commitment. We would do well to be extraordinarily reluctant to allow things to be tacked onto those exceptions if we actually value free speech in practice.

I have considerable discomfort with how NYC treats the homeless; in my view, it should always remove them to a shelter on request, no choice. That said, this article suggests that other aspects of our homeless policies are having good effect in getting people off the streets. And so for those policies, provided they work, I'm happy to see them in place. Although I still want mandatory removal and until that is done, support shaping public infra (park benches should prevent people from lying down, for example) to keep them from using it for purposes contrary to the intended purpose.

In terms of API design, this intro to v2 of the Git wire protocol is a great example of a longstanding principle in API design (protocol design, file format design, so on): Always leave space near the start of your header for a version flag. They didn't in git, and the workarounds described sound really unfortunate to deal with that shortsightedness. Even good programmers make rookie mistakes sometimes.