Archive for digital culture

Google Should Not Have Fired Their Engineer over Sexist Memo

A pig.

Anyone who knows me personally knows my politics are generally liberal sprinkled with a strong respect for tradition. I also am willing to label myself a feminist in the traditional sense of the word – an advocate for the equality of women in all aspects of society. The reason I mention this is to provide context for my contention that Google was wrong to fire an employee for his wrongheaded remarks about women in tech. And also, to head off arguments that I am some right-wing, women bashing, pig.

Like many in the tech community, I have been following the story of Google engineer James Damore’s internal memo entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”. I was taken aback by two aspects of the memo: how well written it is and how weak the data is. In most cases, Mr. Damore does rely on stereotypes and not real data. That makes his arguments less than defensible. Firing him for those arguments though, is draconian. Google action also helps to prove Mr. Damore’s point about the intolerance of views that don’t meet with, what he perceives, as a left leaning bias. Let me put this another way – you don’t fire someone because you find their views odious. That’s not liberal. Liberals revel in freedom of thought and respectful public discourse. Mr. Damore sought out a dialog and, in this case, is more “liberal” than Google management.

Unfortunately, Google also missed a rare opportunity to discuss gender stereotypes and the biases they drive. That would have been a great service to Google, the tech industry, and society at large. It may have been a teachable moment not just for Mr. Damore but for everyone in tech who believe we are untouched by the hidden biases of the greater society. Here’s where the scientific literature may have helped. Mr. Damore’s fellow Googlers (Googlites? Googles? Whatever…) could have used reason to dispel his notions about gender, citing real scientific fact and respected data. He does not come across as an unreasonable person, just lacking in appropriate facts. Politely pointing out where the research doesn’t support his ascertains may have swayed him and any other readers who hold the same views.

Change almost never happens by silencing critics who act in a respectful manner and ask for dialog. It only provides a bigger soapbox from which to pronounce distorted views. Change happens when we learn from each other, something that Mr. Damore says he is open to. Removing him doesn’t remove his point of view. Googlers who share his views won’t suddenly abandon them. Instead they will see evidence that he is right and Google is biased against dissenting viewpoints.

Ultimately, Mr. Damore asked for a discussion. Wouldn’t that have been better approach? Legalities aside, removing someone from their livelihood is harsh. It is especially so when he was encouraged to share his views openly. By firing Mr. Damore, Google seems to prove his point that the company may be authoritarian, biased, and intolerant. It’s just too bad that Google missed an opportunity to prove him wrong – wrong about Google and wrong about women in tech.

I certainly don’t agree with Mr. Damore. My 33 years in the tech industry (which are likely a few more than his) have taught me that women engineers are every bit as capable as men. That more women are not in tech has more to do with a company culture that is not family friendly and managers with views such as Mr. Damore’s, than the ability of women to do the job. That doesn’t mean that he should be fired for having these views, even if they are antediluvian. Instead, respectful discourse would have accomplished so much more.

Why is The Internet Losing Their Minds Over MS Paint

A picture of the sadness that is MS Paint.

Yesterday, July 24, 2017, Microsoft announced that it would be deprecating MS Paint for the Fall Creators Release of Windows 10. Immediately the Internet went crazy with grief. There were even petitions! The reaction to the rather nonchalant announcement that MS Paint would no longer be part of Windows was so strong that Microsoft had to announce today that Paint wasn’t going away at all. Instead, MS Paint would still be available from the Windows Store, though it would no longer ship with Windows 10.

Why?!

MS Paint has been around over 30 years. That’s four centuries in computer time. It hasn’t changed much in that time and is, let’s be honest, a pretty feeble program by modern standards. This is like weeping for the demise of the Ford Model T.

There are so many other simple drawing applications out there I can’t even count them all. Paint.net is better. GIMP is a hundred times better, free, and runs on everything shy of an MVS mainframe. Ask you grandpas about that one kiddies. Microsoft has also recently released an updated version called, unimaginatively, Paint 3D.

So why all the Sturm und Drang and gnashing of teeth? Nostalgia. That’s the only viable explanation. What else could it be? It’s like retro computing. No one really yearns for the days of DOS commands or thinks that a 25 year old Mac is better than a modern one. Yet, hobbyists fill their basements with ancient computers. MS Paint was, for many, the first graphics program they ever used, perhaps even one of the first programs they used. It’s not about the utility of a 30 year old piece of software; it’s about retaining a small piece of youth.

Give it up campers. If you want to regain the wonder of youth, listen to U2 or get a NES Classic. Crying for MS Paint is like trying to fit into that concert t-shirt from freshman year in college – a guarantee of embarrassment and sadness.

It might have helped if Paint 3D wasn’t, in of itself, kind of boring. Even so, embrace the new. Besides Paint 3D, Microsoft has also made Fresh Paint available from the Windows Store. Those are just the Microsoft offerings. The Windows Store and Internet are overflowing with low-end graphics programs. Use one of those.

But please, stop whining over an application from the Reagan era that should have been put down long ago.