The Czar took the family out to unscenic Rockwood, Illinois, under the pretense that it was as far from the crowds as possible and still experience totality. Even so, there were still about 100 people gathered around the town’s tiny post office and church to watch the event. Fortunately, 90% of the country missed it due to the cloudy weather, but Rockwood had extremely clear skies, so now the Czar can rub it in.
As we arrived, the sun was already 50% eclipsed. You wouldn’t know this without some solar filter over your eyes—the sun was brilliant in the sky, and you could readily sunburn under it. Even when the sun was about 99% eclipsed—and looked like a skinny orange fingernail clipping through filters—the ground conditions were bright and sunny. The only real thing a trained eye would notice was that shadows on the ground were fuzzy and indistinct—and you could see the shadows were tracing out crude, curved shapes of the eclipse overhead. Meanwhile, life played on below as if nothing was different.
Then, the sky turned a strange violet color, and everything on the ground had a slight patina to it. At once, you could sense it was slightly darker and getting visibly so as the seconds ticked by. Without warning, the entire area was plunged into night as if someone tripped a switch. Street lights came on, cars put on their headlights, stars instantly appear, crickets and toads fired up and cicadas and birds went silent. “Oh my God,” screamed a woman in the distance, and the sun was replaced by a jet black orb, hovering in the sky, surrounded by a curling halo of fire. Yes, you could easily stare at it, like some enormous black hole mere thousands of feet away. No photograph can do this justice—the entire sky is dominated by a massive, unblinking black pupil with an iris of yellow fire.
A lazy heron flapped her way back to her roost, annoyed that somehow the entire day slipped away on her. At every horizon, light—as if sunrise was happening in every direction at once. And, stubbornly, the moon hung in the sky like a black marble.
Then, a piercing diamond of light appeared on the moon. Everyone looked away, one hopes, and the sky immediately brightened again, rapidly turning to what seemed full brightness. And then it was over, and everyone jumped into their cars for the 9-hour traffic delay back to Chicago.
The eclipse impressed people of all ages. Here’s a smattering of reviews:
“Hella tight af!”— Dom, age 5
“Wizard!”— Sam, age 8
“Dank!”—Brycen, age 11
“Sick!”—Jayden, age 16
“Dope!”—Hunter, age 18
“Wicked!”—Phaeton, age 21
“Sweeeet!”— Olivia, age 24
“Killer!”—Sophia, age 27
“Phat!”—Madison, age 31
“Gnarly!”— Lysander, age 33
“Boss!”—Dougray, age 35
“Bitchin’!”—Jake, age 37
“Rad!”—Brad, age 41
“Tubular!”—Lisa, age 45
“Awesome!”—Dennis, age 50
“Slick!”—Bill, age 57
“Rockin’!”—Tony, age 62
“Far out!”—Moonbeam, age 68
“Groovy!”—Ned, age 72
“Keen!”—Angela, age 75
“Cool!”—Phil, age 78
“Hip!”—Thomas, age 81
“Peachy!”—Jeremiah, age 85
“Jive!”—Dino, age 88
“Jumping!”—Doreen, age 91
“Swell!”—Agnes, age 95
It’s been a while since GorT has dived into the mailbag and this time, I drew two out of the bag.
The first one comes from Dr. (KN)J:
O most exalted robotitude: first of all, my apologies for my silence of late. It has been far too long since I last left any evidence of dropping by the Castle. Real life, you know, has a way of intruding on things…
At any rate, I did want to offer a modest corrective to your take on Mr. Damore’s now-infamous memo. Having spent my adult life in STEM academia and IT, I agree with the vast majority of what you had to say, especially about Mr. Damore’s (apparent) naive idea that his approach was likely to either end well for him or be helpful for Google. However, I would like to point out that he didn’t actually say that “biological differences hinder women from being good developers” – that is, at most, an implicit inference from what he did say. He did, at one point, say that biology affects “preferences and abilities” but all of his examples were pointed toward the (valid, in my experience) differences in preferences between men and women. Had he asked me for advice beforehand, I would have suggested to him (in addition to suggesting that he not take this approach at all) that he remove “and abilities” from that line, since it didn’t affect his subsequent argument at all. The only example he gave subsequently that could be argued to be an ability (or disability) is his reference to neuroticism, which, in the form in which it exists in the scientific literature, could also be characterized as a preference (preferring a low-stress vs. high-stress environment). I would also say that anyone who thinks that being neurotic is an obstruction to being a successful programmer must not have met many programmers. It may, however, be somewhat detrimental to success in software development as currently practiced in large corporate environments.Having taught numerous female mathematics students and raised two daughters currently working in STEM, I just don’t see any differences in native abilities between men and women. I do, however, see significant differences (at the population level, not the individual level) in preferences. This is also consonant with what I know of the scientific literature on the subject. Preferences do, however, affect which skills one is willing to work to acquire, and that seems to begin to play out, certainly by college (and possibly quite a bit earlier), in the overall low representation of women in computer science (and, to a lesser extent, engineering in general). This will inevitably affect the gender makeup of the population from which Google is hiring. I would point out, though, that mathematics undergraduates are currently nearly 50/50 (though most of the female majors are intending secondary math teachers, so that statistic is somewhat misleading), while biology and veterinary science are overwhelmingly female, so it appears not to be STEM as such, but very specific to CS/engineering. In fact, one way in which Google could increase the gender diversity of their applicant pool is to recruit more heavily from the biological sciences (ironically, Mr. Damore himself is trained in biology, so I’m surprised that this seems not to have occurred to him).
Sorry to be so pedantic about this, but having read the memo fairly early on, and then seen it described in the media as an “anti-diversity” (which it was not) “screed” (which it was not) just put a burr under my saddle. I would really, really like for arguments such as this to be engaged for what they really are, and not caricatured in any way. For the most part, you did exactly that, except for the one point that inspired this response.
Three final points:1. The other recommendations I would have given Mr. Damore are that he make explicit that none of what he was discussing had anything to do with the women who currently work for Google – it is really about how to attract more women who currently do not work for Google into the applicant pool. All indications that I have seen are that Google (and, indeed, most IT companies) have workforce demographics that are very similar to those of their applicant pools. I would also have suggested that he very clearly separate his suggestions for improving diversity from his echo-chamber complaints – it seems to me that those were conflated, much to the detriment of the concomitant discourse.
2. The best thing I’ve read on the subject so far (at least in terms of resonating with my experience) is Megan McArdle’s piece in Bloomberg View ( https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-08-09/as-a-woman-in-tech-i-realized-these-are-not-my-people ). The TL;DR on this one is that her experience led her to believe that the sexism that does exist in the tech world is the result, not the cause of it being a statistically male-dominated field.
3. Any actual engagement of this topic (it seems to me) must take into account the (surprising) facts that female participation in IT in the US has actually declined over the last couple of decades (in the face of a huge push to the contrary), and that a number of developing countries in which females DO face enormous hurdles to education and entry into IT, actually have higher female IT participation rates than we do. Something is clearly going on here besides stereotyping and bias. Here, I recommend Scott Alexander’s essay on the subject ( http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/07/contra-grant-on-exaggerated-differences/ ).
As the father of two extremely talented women who are working in STEM, I have an enormous interest in making sure that they face no arbitrary barriers to flourishing in their fields of interest. As the grandfather of a precocious 5-year-old boy who seems destined for STEM as well, I have an enormous interest in making sure that the same is true for him.
Sorry for the length of the response – as the saying goes, “I didn’t have time to make it shorter..
All the best,
Royal Mathematician to the Gormogons
All good points and some great references for further reading. I appreciate the information!
Dear Mr. Robot Man,
Thank you for the recent post on the Google memo. I think that you brought up some good points and I definitely appreciate your points from your own experience. I really liked the part about teachers being 75% women and how companies should hire based on ability, period. That would be great and it should be a focus for colleges, too (were you all the ones to talk about how many minority folks do poorly because they were accepted above their level?).
I think that you may have missed some points about the Google memo at the time you authored your post. Apparently the guy who wrote it posted it only to a small group of people at Google and sent it to their HR department. It is said that someone else leaked it to the whole company. Also, in the memo he said that women were less likely to seek the field and less likely to be on the extreme end of ability based on population trends, not that they were unable to do the work or should be barred from doing so. That’s my take on later articles that emerged during the week.
Thanks for all that you all do at the site. Do you all plan on having your podcasts up on iTunes?
Operative J S
Yes, the details of how the memo was released was not quite clear when I first wrote the piece. And YES, the Gormogon podcast is on iTunes’ podcasts – tune in for some Gormo-goodness.
The Mandarin, ‘Puter, and GorT spent some time last night sitting along the Castle moat talking about the current events with regards to the events in Charlottesville, Nazis, White Supremacists, AntiFA, and that whole mess. A passing mention was made about the current push against Confederate statues. On GorT’s drive into work this morning, I did some thinking and had a few thoughts on that aspect.
Liberals can be counted on, if for nothing else, than to be consistently inconsistent. One of the defining characteristics that many liberals hold is that man (the species) is innately good. So to cut to the chase, why do they advocate the ripping down of statues of people that, according to said belief, were innately good but lived in a time and participated in the owning of slaves. If it is that one sin – and it is abhorrent and a permanent stain on this country’s history – that should warrant the removal of any statue then the question becomes how far should we go? The specific ownership of slaves is complicated – until 1859, Grant managed his father-in-law’s farm which used slaves. It is unclear if Robert E. Lee actually owned any slaves as he too managed his father-in-law’s three estates which used slaves but he never inherited these slaves and only continued their servitude through his role as executor of his father-in-law’s will. If we rewind history a bit more, we have Presidents Washington and Jefferson who both had slaves on their properties and as Al Sharpton has suggested, that means the end of the Washington and Jefferson monuments in DC as well as many other statues and memorials around the country. While we’re at it, throw in any of the following presidents: Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, and Johnson*. So any school named after one of them or monument or statue needs to be on a list of things to change or remove. All the while, we’ll wash away parts of the story of the evil of slavery in this country while ignoring any and all good that these people did.
While I’m not going to dive into this much, there is a solid argument to be made that the Civil War wasn’t over slavery so those arguing to tear down statues of people who “fought for slavery” in essence attempting to provide an “out” for Washington, Jefferson, etc. as they didn’t “fight” for slavery in the Civil War. I believe that it was largely over the 10th amendment and federal vs. state rights – something that has been long lost. Slavery just was the key issue being pushed down from the federal government to the states and, like today, there was probably a lack of good dialog over the issue and the southern states were going to be significantly impacted. And it is a mistake to conflate slavery with racism and white supremacy. There were many slave owners who openly condemned and fought against white supremacy movements in the mid-1800s. And don’t just look at the south for these issues – the largest race riot in the United States took place in 1863 in New York City between lower-income, mostly Irish immigrants and free slaves over the draft and competition for work.
I don’t think we should have statues celebrating these folks specifically for slavery and fighting to maintain slaves but at the same time without applying some critical thinking, we will be left with the “group think” results that give us situations like Charlottesville.
‘Puter’s been doing some thinking and far too much drinking. ‘Puter was on vacation last week. Don’t judge him. Of course, ‘Puter’s doctor’s probably not going to be too pleased when ‘Puter goes to see her next week, but that’s for another post.
So there ‘Puter was, minding his own business at his undisclosed Delmarva palatial beach manse, sucking down Lavoris and Leinenkugel shandies, and macking hard on Mrs. ‘Puter, as one does on vacation.* ‘Puter happened to hear his oldest son, Laptop, ranting like a communist on crack about how Nazis had invaded central Virginia. Naturally, any information coming from Laptop is suspect especially since he’s now into his seventh year of Jesuit education.
Naturally ‘Puter checked up on Laptop to make sure he hadn’t swallowed his tongue from apoplexy and spite. Laptop hadn’t, so ‘Puter checked his Twitter feed.
Holy sweet baby Jeebus in the manger, what a sh*tshow of epic proportions. Near as ‘Puter could make out from the garbled nature of his feed, Nazis, Fascists, Fascist Nazis, Nazi Fascists, Fascist Anti-Nazis, Nazi Anti-Fascists, local cops, state cops, National Guardsmen, a poorly maintained helicopter, the governor, the mayor, the junior mayor, and Dodge Challenger brand image had all simultaneously shat the bed.
‘Puter dutifully ignored the First Annual Charlottesville Fiesta de Mierda for the remainder of his vacation lest the delicate and ladylike Mrs. ‘Puter repeatedly nut punch him. Again. ‘Puter managed to catch up on the facts and the uproar upon his return to scenic Upstate New York, Land That Hope ForgotTM.
So ‘Puter was on Twitter at lunch today, as he is wont to do, and Dave (@nochiefs) said, “Hey, ‘Puter. You really ought to write that crap you pass off as wisdom up.” So here we are.
Behold, ‘Puter’s Epicly Awesome and Totally Correct Takeaways on Charlottesville:
- Charlottesville is the home of Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia, which can suck on ‘Puter’s tiny Irish wang for rejecting him for both undergrad and law school.
- In Charlottesville, natives wile away the blissful, serene days by enticing once-great magazines to falsely accuse fraternities of rape. Oh, the fun the natives have doing this!
- When they’re all done destroying media outlets, Charlottesville natives periodically invite morally abhorrent groups comprised of basement dwelling Millennials adhering to discredited ideologies to go to war over a guy who went to war for slavery. Did ‘Puter mention both sides dress up in cute costumes? Because they totally do!
- Charlottesville causes politicians to explain away bad behavior of a group they agree with (but pretend not to agree with) by pointing at the bad behavior of the group they don’t agree with and going “Aha! You’re evil and bad! Recant, or face the Inquisition!”
- Charlottesville has a magical aura which renders rioting Leftists invisible to media. It’s the darndest thing! Media didn’t see hard Leftists do anything wrong! Media has no idea what you’re talking about! It’s hysterical and it never gets old. Trust ‘Puter on this one.
- Charlottesville causes mayors and governors to endanger lives by playing political games with police protection. Man, is it funny to watch police stand idly by as Charlottesville descends into lawlessness, riots, and murder so local and state Democrats can score political points!
- Charlottesville causes mass hallucinations on both the Right and the Left in which each side believes the fringe on the other side is massive in number and power and totally representative of the other side’s actual beliefs.
‘Puter’s had a bit of fun with his characterization of this past weekend’s events, but here’s the real takeaway. It is dangerous to excuse or coddle fringe groups, no matter how small. And people on both the Right and the Left are doing just that.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for how much things are screwed up right now. Put your own house in order before you bravely go flame-war the other side’s trolls on Twitter.
Hugs and kisses,
* ‘Puter’s undisclosed palatial Delmarva beach manse is actually ‘Puter’s parents’ beach house, but ‘Puter likes to pretend it’s his. After all, who wouldn’t want their child who was as awesome and super-cool as ‘Puter to inherit the beach house? Certainly not Mom and Dad ‘Puter. Sure, ‘Puter’s three siblings might be a tad miffed, but c’mon. ‘Puter’s frikkin’ awesome.
GorT is back from vacation and ready to take on a few things that took place while he was tanning his 8-foot titanium robot casing. Given that it is a topic I have discussed before and that it is near and dear to me since I’m in the field, let’s tackle the “Google Anti-diversity memo”. There are a variety of aspects to this, so if you think, as a conservative, I’m going to totally back the no-fired author, you’re wrong….read on. Warning, you might want to get your coffee now because I’ve been giving this some thought…I did have a 4-hour plane ride.
First, let’s tackle the authoring of the memo – the software engineer who wrote it is like many early-career developers that I’ve worked with: they don’t have a good sense of how companies run, why certain policies are in place, and how to properly address certain issues. Instead of working with Google’s HR department and his direct management chain, he decided to write a misguided screed that is going to leave him in a tough place professionally. While I don’t ascribe to his beliefs that biological differences hinder women from being good developers, there are aspects to his complaints – specifically around preferential treatment to certain groups of people – that are worth exploring.
GorT has worked with, for, and managed female developers. The memo’s author is wrong, I believe, in stating that biologically, women wouldn’t make good developers. I know plenty of males who aren’t or wouldn’t be good developers. Years ago when I worked for IBM, they were experimenting with hiring creative types – music and art majors out of college and trying to train them to program in the belief that software development is a creative process (it is) and that more creative minds like artists and musicians will be more adept at it (doubtful if not an outright failure). Anyway, two of the best managers GorT has ever had in his career are women. GorT has had top notch women developers and ones who were average. I will state, that in my career, I’ve only had one female developer who was sub-par to the point that I had to address it. And it didn’t go well. I’ve had my share of good and bad male managers and employees. I’ve had to fire some and hire many. I strive to evaluate everyone – from the time I read their resume through 1-on-1 reviews, it is all about what that person has done, how they’ve done it, and the potential they demonstrate. It isn’t about race, religion, gender, sexual-orientation, or whatever category someone wants to throw around. It is how well they can do the job – because that’s what matters.
And this is where the discussion gets difficult. The current focus by the media and others on diversity within certain businesses will likely continue to create situations like this and it will damage individuals and companies while failing to address the real issues. Measuring “diversity” at the employment end of timeline and thinking that the companies are the ones to blame is as misguided as the author who wrote this screed. The issues are complex but let me lay out a few of my thoughts:
- Addressing diversity – gender, race, etc – in technological fields starts in elementary school. Usually, the simple and pedestrian response to this is to “focus on STEM” education. Public and private schools are doing just that – some well and some are just paying lip service to it by having tablets in the classrooms or building web pages as part of history class projects. No, I don’t mean that everyone should be learning to program. That’s just as wrong as thinking everyone should go to college. It does mean that we need to expose these children to what it takes to become a good developer. How, at a high level and one appropriate for their age, a computer works and how applications are built.
- In middle school, basic programming options should be available. Not mandatory, but we need to have options for those children who are interested to explore the possibility.
- In high school, where one does have the ability to begin focusing – hard science, tech, math, liberal arts, arts, etc. – we need to provide solid foundational classes. I visited with my AP Computer Science teacher last year and he bemoaned the “dumbing down” of the AP Computer Science exam. Take or leave the AP exams, it is a data point showing that we’re not maintaining a rigor needed. I’m not saying every developer – or every good developer – needs to take the AP exam or a harder AP exam, but those that are challenging themselves and growing fast need to have that option.
- We need to be careful and cognizant of social pressures, stereotypes, and mocking when it comes to these fields. Think about it for a minute – how many “nerdy” or “geeky” women are portrayed as positive, role-model-esque characters on movies or TV. Even on The Big Bang Theory, there is mocking of nerds and scientists in general, to include the two main, science-educated female characters: Bernadette and Amy. We all know the picture: unstylish hair, glasses, maybe toss in some acne issues and unpopular clothing choices.
Finally, I understand measuring these type of demographic numbers since you can’t manage or affect change on something that isn’t measured. Having said that, the slippery slope is that people focus on the numbers and not the issues and broader pictures. While not a complete barometer, one could argue that the demographics of Engineering and Computer Science graduates should inform us as to the desires of the population seeking those types of jobs. While the numbers vary a little, recent reports put women at about 20-25% of the degree graduates. One will note that in the tech fields at Google, they are self-reporting around 20% women. My division of software developers is slightly higher at 22% – all but one of the women have an Engineering or Computer Science degree – the one remaining, who is largely self-taught and highly motivated and REALLY good, is a history major who taught for a while and used lots of technology in her lesson plans. And we should honestly discuss what the goals are for measuring these numbers – while the US population has slightly more than 50% women, should companies aim to have slightly more than 50% women? Consider that only 47% of the workforce are women. Shouldn’t the measure be against qualified candidates for the job? Guess what happens when you do that? The problem shifts to our education system. And many on the left side of the political spectrum don’t want that area to get focus because it won’t be pretty. It will expose the lack of progress in teaching, the problems that – in a field where, as of the 2011-12 school year, over 75% of the teachers are female, we are failing to prepare enough women to get more than 20-25% degrees in Computer Science.
The other part of this slippery slope is the compensation. Let me be clear: no category (race, gender, etc.) should be a factor in determining compensation – merit, tenure, skills, market demand, etc. are all viable factors. And this is where it gets really hard. Remember that one woman who I spoke of early on who wasn’t a good performer? I had to collect and track performance information, including conversations that were then agreed to between us (me as her manager) in order to make sure that her performance rating and subsequent removal from a program was based on performance and not her gender or minority status. We need to get beyond attacking people for implicit biases when they might not exist and evidence shows otherwise. I have two daughters and I’d be the first to defend saying that they can do anything they put the minds and efforts against and should be compensated just like anyone else.
Imagine, however, that we pick another private industry to examine outside of the likes of the high tech companies of Facebook, Google, Uber, Microsoft. What about professional sports? Should professional leagues match the country’s demographics as far as race, gender, sexual-orientation, etc. ? Many would argue, correctly, that it is based on the best athlete for a position: point-guard, quarterback, goalie, defenseman, second baseman, etc. So isn’t the corollary that in industry, the best skilled person should get the job?
So here is your takeaways:
- Discrimination is wrong and that extends to compensation – but don’t mistake problems in critical employment factors such as initiative, resourcefulness, and skills for prejudice
- While compensation and other problems exist in industry, diversity issues start much younger and largely have issues in our education system
- Don’t do stupid things like writing screeds – instead challenge your management and HR why specific classes are restricted by race, gender, etc. when they seek diversity which should cut across racial, gender, and other lines. Ask them why limit the perspectives those students get?
- Strive to be objective and look at the merits of what your employees and co-workers do. Remove politics, generation, race, gender, sexual-orientation, etc. Are they doing a good job? Can you count on them if they get assigned something critical?
Are you fatigued? Really, are you just exhausted with the news?
The Czar is, and he realized some time ago that you could take two weeks off, with no contact with the outside world, come back, and find that none of the headlines have changed.
The Washington Post could have a standing headline every single day of its week: “Russia Investigation Tightening Around Trump.” That whole story is like watching a lawn grow, except that a lawn eventually does.
The media’s obsession with finding every flaw in Donald Trump is hardly the extent of it. Aren’t you just exhausted watching people discuss immigration? So few people understand the insides and outsides of the immigration issue, and sadly it’s hard to hear them talking over the ignorami shouting all the time. And what’s stupid is that if you subtract the politicians, journalists, lobbyists, and elites from the discussion, you’re left with the American people…who are pretty clear what reforms they want. And they’re pretty good, bipartisan ideas.
Or health insurance. Dr. J. found a social media posting today in which a person (presumably a liberal) celebrated the State of Oregon’s ability to pass its own health insurance bill…something the United States couldn’t do. Obviously lost on the poster was that state-run health insurance is what conservatives have been asking for. That’s how it’s supposed to work, ding-dong! It’s exhausting trying to explain this stuff. It’s also fatiguing to hear that Republican senators have no stomach to really repeal and reform the existing disastrous law—although one of the Czar’s personal gripes is that the GOP politicians aren’t explaining why they keep voting against a replacement. Many of them have excellent reasons; instead, we just hear they’re getting nothing done.
Tiresome, tiresome, tiresome. The glacial advance of the news is not a worrisome thing: it’s the way the world works. What makes it tiresome is the hurry-up-and-wait reporting of it. Yes, the Czar is, per usual, blaming our media morons for this. Breaking news is already a running gag in popular society, although the media doesn’t seem to get the joke.
And yet, that’s only half of it. Social media is other reason: some days, reading Twitter is like sparring two boxers at once, and you have no head gear. Or arms. And Facebook—the Czar stays off Facebook, because it’s so overwhelmingly self-indulgent. It’s what Twitter would be without a 140-character limit: endless rants.
Like the one you’re reading now. The Czar’s off to take a nap. Tomorrow he will work on his lawn, and probably grill some food, drink himself into a relaxed state, and watch a couple of old movies on the DVR. And maybe check the news on Monday morning, only to find out there’s nothing new about it.