2017-03-08

A litmus test for Silicon Valley on women's rights

Today is International Women's Day, and here in Silicon Valley I have been besieged by virtue signalling around it: red ribbons (wasn't that the AIDS symbol? won't they be pissed at the appropriation?), men wearing red shirts with the logo "#supporter" and so on.

"We gave up on actual equality and we virtue-signalled. Right Bon?"
"Oh yes. That's right Stu, we virtue-signalled hard.
Of course, talk is cheap; let's talk about revealed preferences.

A primary complaint expressed during International Women's Day is that women are underpaid compared to men. Tech companies are heavy users of H1-B visas which draw relatively highly paid jobs in technology. How many men hold H1-B visas compared to women? It's hard to tell for some reason, but:

While the Obama administration came under fire at the hearing for not revealing how many men and women hold H-1B visas, the nation’s centerpiece program for highly skilled workers, the data requested by the Bay Area News Group provided the scope of the imbalance: The U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics recorded 347,087 male H-1B visa holders entered the country during the 2011 fiscal year compared to 137,522 women.
So women made up approximately 28% of H1-B visas in 2011, which was the most recent year in which I could find any reference to gender split. I wonder why the USCIS is so coy about this data?

Here's a proposal for Silicon Valley firms to back:

  • Deploring the wage gap between women and men where women only earn 77% of the salary that men do[1];
  • Understanding that the H1-B visa is intended to bring highly skilled immigrants into the United States;
  • Accepting that Silicon Valley is a disproportionate beneficiary of the H1-B program;
  • Recognizing that it is incumbent on Silicon Valley firms to back their words on gender pay equality with words;
  • [CompanyName] resolves to keep its annual H1-B visa hires within 5% of a 50:50 male:female ratio.

Otherwise, all this talk of "support" for International Women's Day is just low-cost wanking, and surely that can't be the case?

[1] - yes, yes, I know, but let's pretend that Silicon Valley firms believe the propaganda that they propagate.

2017-03-03

Bay Area tech women will be striking

Next Wednesday, 8th March, is International Women's Day and so, in a celebration of feminine puissance, a coterie of female engineers in Bay Area tech companies are planning to strike.

At this point I must borrow words from the colourful Times columnist India Knight and sigh: "Fuck's actual sake."

The guidance to women thinking of striking is widespread and varying in tone. Cassady Fendlay, a holder of "BS in Labor Relations", has provided a handy template letter to an employer, which is almost un-fiskable but I like a challenge:

I hope you will stand in support of me, and any of my women colleagues who choose to participate, in observance of this day. Places of employment can participate by closing for the day or giving women workers the day off, whether paid or unpaid.
Mmm, I'd be going for "unpaid" there, bubba. Because if you give all your female employees a paid day off for attending International Women's Day, you can bet your bottom dollar that the employment lawyers will be knocking on your door the day afterwards asking for a corresponding concession for Men's Day. I also wonder about trans employees - do they get their own day, or do they have to pick one of the existing ones - and "genderfluid" employees - do they observe both days? Neither? [If you think this is facetious, you clearly haven't spent time in a Bay Area tech company recently.]

Back to Ms Fendlay:

By ensuring that women have pay equity, a livable [sic] wage and paid leave, businesses can demonstrate that their long-term actions align with the values we are standing up for on this day.
So it's fine for men not to have a wage they can live on? What she's claiming, of course, is that women generally suffer pay discrimination, which has been comprehensively debunked. I'm sure there are some employers where this is true, but I can assure you that Bay Area tech companies are not the primary examples.

And to finish:

At an increasingly insecure [my italics] time for the rights of women and other minority groups, it is important to me that I also stand for the value of equality. I hope you will support me in my decision.
"Increasingly insecure"? FFS. I'm going out on a limb here and assuming that they're not referring to Iran, Saudi Arabia et al. I can't help but note that the national leaders of the UK, Taiwan, Chile, South Korea and Germany are female, and the USA came within inches of electing a female President despite her being desperately unlikeable. What the actual fuck is "insecure" about women's rights in 2017 compared to the 100 years previous?

Personally, I wouldn't see any problem with letting my employees, female or male, have the day off - unpaid, or out of their vacation. If they're scheduled for interviews, a support rotation or other business critical function I'd expect them to arrange cover since their absence is reasonably foreseeable. Enjoy the day all you want, but follow the rules that apply to every employee. That's equality for you.

Of course, the danger is that the strike is a) widely observed, and b) makes no material impact...

2017-02-11

Erdogan and his nocturnal ovine pleasuring habits

Like many others who support free speech, I was very disappointed in yesterday's decision by a Hamburg court that it stands by its ban of a satirical poem by German comedian Jan Böhmermann. Herr Böhmermann, not a big fan of the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erodgan and his oppression of both people and speech, narrated this poem "Schmägedicht" ("Defamation Poem") on his show on 31st March 2016.

Here's the original reading: if you have any German speakers in the room with you then now would be an excellent time to send them out.

Jan Böhmermann - Erdogan Gedicht (Jan Boehmermann Erdogan poem) (English subtitled) from mjchris on Vimeo.

As a public service, here is my transcription of the original text, plus a translation.

GermanEnglish
Sackdoof, feige und verklemmt Stupid as fuck, cowardly and uptight
Ist Erdogan, der Präsident is Erdogan, the president.
Sein Gelöt stinkt schlimm nach Döner His erection reeks of Doner kebab;
selbst ein Schweinefurz riecht schöner Even a pig fart smells better.
Er ist der Mann, der Mädchen schlägt He's a man who hits girls
und dabei Gummimasken trägt while wearing rubber masks.
Am liebsten mag er Ziegen ficken He loves most to fuck goats
und Minderheiten unterdrücken and repress minorities.
 
Kurden treten, Christen hauen Kicking Kurds, beating Christians
und dabei Kinderpornos schauen while gazing at kiddie porn.
Und selbst abends heisst’s statt schlafen And at night, instead of sleep,
Fellatio mit hundert Schafen Performs fellatio on a hundred sheep.
Ja, Erdogan ist voll and ganz Yes, Erdogan truly is
ein Präsident mit kleinem Schwanz A president with a small dick.
 
Jeden Türken hört man flöten Every Turk will tell you
die dumme Sau hat Schrumpelklöten the stupid pig has wrinkled balls.
Von Ankara bis Istanbul From Ankara to Istanbul
weiss jeder, dieser Mann ist schwul everyone knows this man's a poof,
pervers, verlaust und zoophil perverse, lice-ridden, an animal fucker.
Recep “Fritzl Priklopil” Recep (Josef) Fritzl (Wolfgang) Priklopil [the famous perverts]
 
Sein Kopf so leer wie seine Eier His head as empty as his balls,
der Star auf jeder Gangbang-Feier the star of every gangbang party.
Bis der Schwanz beim Pinkeln brennt Until his cock burns when he pisses
das is Recep Erdogan, der türkische Präsident That’s Recep Erdogan, the Turkish president.

The court assessment was that only 6 of the 24 lines were acceptable: you can view their transcript with "unacceptable" lines marked in red. Interestingly they didn't seem to object to the suggestion that Erdogan likes wearing rubber masks while beating girls.

Germany and Turkey, of course, have the right to make whatever laws they desire about the limits on free speech and criticism of women-beating dictators. We in turn have the right to tell them what we think of their laws, and of Recep Tayyip Erdogan - and in the future, whenever we see President Erdogan on screen, hear in our minds the bleating of a hundred happy sheep.

28 hours of racial lies

One of the latest bits of social justice posturing is the play "Every 28 hours", a project produced by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival:

Every 28 Hours is a national partnership focused on the widely shared and contested statistic that every twenty-eight hours a black person is killed by vigilante, security guard, or the police in the United States.
Regular readers will know that a maths-based arse-kicking is coming. But perhaps, disregarding the numbers, this play is still a compelling work? After all, Harold Pinter was a complete arse, but his plays could still pull in the crowds. Might it be the same here?
The Every 28 Hours Plays consist of 72 one-minute plays inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, with participation from artists across the nation.
OK, maybe I'll save myself the price of the ticket and just gently gouge out my eyes with a spoon.

One black person killed every 28 hours is 312 black people murdered a year. This is 312 murders too many, no matter who's doing it - and, let's be clear, I'm not quibbling with this . However, let's put this in some numerical context, shall we? I'm assuming that the "Every 28 Hours" authors are mostly liberal arts majors, so I promise to go slow and show my working. (Which, I'd guess, is a sight more than they do.)

The Facts

I'm using the FBI 2015 crime figures, specifically Expanded Homicide Data Table 6 (Race, Ethnicity, and Sex of Victim by Race, Ethnicity, and Sex of Offender, 2015).

Race/Ethnicity of victim Total Race of offender
White Black / African-American Other Unknown
White 3,167 2,574 500 49 44
Black / African-American 2,664 229 2,380 13 42
Other race 222 60 34 126 2
Unknown race 84 34 20 6 24

The other key stat is that, as of 2010, 12.6% of Americans are black or African-American - 1 citizen in 8. I'm making a leap of faith that this fraction has not changed significantly in the past 6 years. Since white people are about 63% of the population, they outnumber black Americans 5 to 1.

The Math(s)

The obvious stat that leaps out - though is hard to state grammatically: white people kill approximately as many white people as black people kill black people. White-on-black and black-on-white killings are actually relatively infrequent. This is also true for the "other" racial category (Asian, mixed-race, Native America etc) which turns out to be a similar fraction of the US population as black / African-American, but only about 7% of the number of racial colleagues killed even if you incorporate the "unknown" category.

So we could produce a companion play "Every 220 Minutes" representing the time interval between one black person killing another black person. We could also write "Every 17 1/2 hours" for a black person killing a white person, and "Every 38 hours" for a white person killing a black person.

But wait! If we have to wait 38 hours for a white person to kill a black person, and a black person is killed by a vigilante / security guard / police officer every 28 hours, doesn't that mean that some of those vigilantes / security guards / police officers must be black (or other ethnic minority)? Why yes, it does. I wonder if "Every 28 Hours" brings out this aspect of the statistics.

The truly terrifying stat is simply that black Americans kill about the same number of people as white Americans despite being outnumbered 5:1. The fear of young black American males held by many white people is visceral rather than statistical - the rate at which black people kill white people is about what you'd expect given the relative proportion of population - but black people in the 20-29 age range should be fucking terrified of black males aged 17 to 24 because they are the ones doing most of the killing of victims in that age range.

Why in the name of all that is holy are the "Every 28 Hours" folks talking about (white) police officers as a deadly influence, when young black men do 10 times more killing?

The Weasels

Let's go back to the Every 28 Hours claim:

...every twenty-eight hours a black person is killed by vigilante, security guard, or the police in the United States [my italics]
Now why, do you think, they added those two extra categories? If they could say:
...every twenty-eight hours a black person is killed by the police in the United States
then wouldn't that be a more powerful message? Perhaps they're not using it because it's not true. The Washington Post reports 258 black people killed by police in 2015. If "Every 28 Hours" used that figure as its basis, it would be called "Every 34 Hours" instead.

The statutory ad hominem

"Every 28 Hours" producer Claudia Alick is big on artistic direction, with a minor in hip-hop coaching, but it seems that her MA from NYU and BA from GWU have not equipped her with the ability to do math. Or perhaps she has the ability, but also gained the power to ignore the figures for the greater good of spreading propaganda. She certainly doesn't seem to be concerned with actually improving the lives of, and reducing the horrific body count in, the black American community in any meaningful way.

2017-02-10

The perils of parenting a pseudo-pocket pig

There are times when I wonder why I still bother to read the Guardian, given what it does to my blood pressure; and then there are articles which make it all worth while. This tale of porcine deception is one of the latter.

I can't possibly do Mr. Jenkins' article justice, you should certainly Read The Whole Thing, but a few things stand out. First, Mr. Jenkins plays to any number of stereotypes as a gentleman who likes other gentlemen: pets as substitute for children (check), strong propensity for public exposure(check), leveraging any excuse to promote his domestic arrangements (check). Second, he should have been a little less trusting of an "old school friend" who wanted to get a petite porker off her hands

We trained her like a puppy and took her to the vet after about a month. He took one look at her cropped tail and said, "I think you have a problem on your hands."
It turns out that a small pig is not the same as a miniature pig. A valuable lesson for Mr. Jenkins, and apparently also life-changing:
If you look a pig closely in the eyes, it’s startling; there's something so inexplicably human. When you’re lying next to her and talking, you know she understands. It was emotional realising she was a commercial pig. The more we discovered about what her life could have been, it seemed crazy to us that we ate animals, so we stopped.
Don't be fooled, Steve: if that pig had the chance, she'd eat you and everyone you love. Ask Brick Top Polford:

2017-02-02

UC Berkeley is a focus for repression of free speech

Last night, the famed right-wing polemicist Milo Yiannopoulos was intending to speak at the University of California at Berkeley. It turns out that there are some people who would prefer that Milo not speak. Rioting, toppling light poles, beating up and pepper-spraying Milo/Trump supporters

It's a sad statement of today's political environment that I was nearly astounded to see UCB's Chancellor actually defending a decision not to cancel Milo's visit. After a rash of spineless cancellations of speaking invitations for Milo - and also for Ben Shapiro, who is much less provocative than Milo but still apparently prone to trigger mouth-frothing by university faculty - it's nice to see a university chancellor sticking up for the principle of free speech. The "right not to be offended" is a particularly pernicious concept and it was refreshing for it to be given short shrift.

Of course, the "anti-fascist" movement was not keen to let a Milo event pass unremarked, and duly turned up to riot. The violence caused the university to cancel the event, thereby providing a perfect example of the "heckler's veto". If you don't like someone's speech, just protest violently and their event will be cancelled. I can't see any problems arising from the incentives this has provided at all, no...

There was only one arrest as a result of the rioting. This is what worries me the most - that rioters not only get the effect they deserve, but can perpetrate their violence practically free of consequence. There's only one direction for future violence as a result, and it's not "down".

2017-01-26

#MyPrimeMinister

Nice speech, Theresa. A solid kicking of the NATO under-spenders, emphasis of shared ideals and values with the USA, doubling down on Brexit. Careful warnings about excessive isolationism, hinting at reservations with the ideas behind today's Muslim visa ban. Repeated callbacks to Ronnie and Maggie; will Donald and Theresa be the new power couple?

It seemed to go down very well with the Republican audience. I'm guessing that Polly Toynbee will hate it. [I also suspect that Theresa doesn't give a shit what Polly thinks.]

2017-01-20

Entrumpment FTW

Your humble correspondent finds it hard to explain the feelings arising from the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, one Donald J. Trump. This "Entrumpment" has acted like a lens focusing the most demented of opinions and acts, and truly it has been the most wondrous of spectacles. Watching the collective losing of excreta of the liberal media today has been non-stop entertainment.

In the Bay Area, much attention was focused yesterday on a proposed attempt to complete a human chain across the Golden Gate bridge. The target date was today and it didn't work out quite as well as the organisers might have liked:

Even though the actual hand holding only lasted for one minute, folks who took part in the human chain say the memory will last a lifetime. Bridge officials say there were some gaps across the span on the northern side, so couldn't give the group credit for the first successful human chain, but for participants, it didn't matter, history was still made.
So even on the most Democrat-Republican polarising day for many years, and in the most Democrat-friendly city of the most Democrat-friendly state, they couldn't get 3000 people organised to form a human bridge. It's almost as if the Trump opposition doesn't have the practical conviction of their opinions.

2016-12-27

Scentrics finds that security is hard

Two years ago I wrote about Scentrics and their "Key Man" security proposal. I wondered idly what had happened there so did some Googling. Turns out that I'm the top two hits for [scentrics key man] which is heart-warming for me but suggests that their world-beating security patent might have sunk like a stone...

I went to their website www.scentrics.com and noted that it didn't redirect to https. I tried https://www.scentrics.com and lo! Chrome's Red "Not secure" Warning of Death appears. Seems that Scentrics can't even secure their website, which is not a little ironic when their home page trumpets "Secure with Scentrics".

All the pages on the site - even "Overview and Vision" and "Careers" - are hidden behind a sign-on box, declaring the website "invitation only" and inviting you to contact "admin@scentrics.com" if you'd like access. You can view headers, but that's about it. You wonder why they would be so sensitive about exposing information like that.

The 2016 news included a nugget from the Daily Telegraph in June:

Scentrics is poised to seek new funding that would value the company at more than $1 billion as it prepares to rollout its infrastructure for the first time.
"Poised", huh? I like that. I read that as "not yet ready". I also like the uncritical write-up of the company's pitch:
Individual messages and documents sent over the internet can be unlocked without compromising the overall security of the network, according to Scentrics's pitch to operators and governments.
Remember that this essentially involved encrypting one copy of a message with the recipient's public key, and another with a government/agency public key, and storing the latter to give the agency access on demand. The government and security agencies involved might not think that this "compromises" the overall security of the network, but as a consumer of the network's function I can assure them that I'd feel very differently. And of course for this to be effective all network users would have to use a very small ecosystem of only approved apps / browsers which implemented this dual encryption, and maintained the central repository of government-friendly encrypted messages. I'm sure there's no risk of systematic system compromise there by insiders at all.

Companies House shows three officers plus a secretarial company including our old friend Guruparan "Paran" Chandrasekaran. Looks like Sir Francis Mackay, David Rapoport and Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra resigned since 2014, which is interesting because the latter gent used to be the Prime Minister of Thailand, and Scentrics trumpted his role in the Telegraph piece, but as of 1 month ago he's out of his company role.

According to their June 2015 accounts they have about GBP4.2M in net assets, looks like they had an infusion of about GBP4.5M during the year. Going from this to a $1bn valuation seems... optimistic.

Update: Looks like Scentrics are diving into Singapore with advertisements for Project Manager and Devops roles there. This seems to be part of the Singapore government's "Smart Nation" project for a unified network in Singapore:

  • A Smart Nation is one where people are empowered by technology to lead meaningful and fulfilled lives.
  • A Smart Nation harnesses the power of networks, data and info-comm technologies to improve living, create economic opportunity and build a closer community.
  • A Smart Nation is built not by Government, but by all of us - citizens, companies, agencies. This website chronicles some of our endeavours and future directions.
Cutting through the marketing speak, Singaporeans will be using a government-provided network for all services including personal and business communication. With Scentrics playing a role, the benevolent semi-dictatorship of Singapore will be able to snoop on all its citizens' internal communications at will.

Scentrics seems to be very comfortable enabling a government's surveillance on its citizens. I wonder how this is going to work out for them long-term given the distinctly libertarian tilt of most software engineers.

[Disclaimer: no share position in Scentrics. Financially I don't care if they live or die. Personally, I'd incline towards the latter.]

Don't blame the tech industry for its "lack of diversity"

Tekla S. Perry, who's experienced enough in the technology world to know better, wrote a provocative piece in IEEE Spectrum this week titled "Why Isn't the Tech Industry Doing Better on Diversity? It's Google's and Facebook's Fault". This sprang from a discussion at "Inclusion In Silicon Valley" where Leslie Miley, Slack's director of engineering, excoriated Bay Area tech companies for their alleged lack of inclusion:

You come to Silicon Valley and you don't see people that look like me in positions of power [Miley is black]. If that's not hostile, what is?
You don't see Chinese Americans or Indian Americans in positions of power in the Federal government, despite 8 years of a black president. If that's not hostile to Chinese and Indian Americans, what is?

Leslie Miley is a mendacious asshole. There are many legitimate points to make about the disproportionately small number of black software engineers, and the horrendous educational and societal failings behind that - and let's be clear, prejudice against academically successful black engineers is a real thing from both the black and white communities - but Leslie's point is not one of those. He is jumping from "X is not happening" (observation) to "X must be being blocked by Y" (assumption). You'd think that a competent engineer would be better acquainted with logical reasoning. But looking at Miley's LinkedIn profile he's only spent a series of 2-3 year stints at a list of major tech companies (Google, Apple, Twitter) in engineering management roles; since you spend 3-6 months coming up to speed with a job like that, and assume you draw down effort in the 3 months looking for a replacement job before you leave, his actual engineering experience doesn't seem that great, and you wonder why he kept leaving each firm before his stock options started to vest in quantity... (This is of course the "play the man, not the ball" approach to argument, which is intellectually facile but no less well founded that Miley's approach to argument.)

I've said this before but let's say it again. The main reason that people of Afro-Caribbean descent are under-represented in the software engineering industry is because the dominant education requirement for that industry is a bachelor's degree in a numerical subject (STEM), and such people are correspondingly under-represented in that qualification bucket. Such under-representation is a major issue that needs fixing, but it's happening way before the Silicon Valley and other engineering companies get involved. There's a secondary issue that engineering companies in general should get better at finding bright numerate non-STEM-degree holders who will do well in software engineering with a small investment of training, but that's another blog post entirely - and in any case, Silicon Valley big firms do spend time and money looking in that general area.

It's not just Miley who's making dumb remarks at this diversity love-fest, of course:

The lack of diversity stems from hidden and systemic bias, believes Monique Woodard, a partner in 500 startups. "If you turned off the imported talent, would you look to Oakland and Atlanta? I'm not sure people would," she said.
This is bollocks on stilts, but not just for the reasons you think. Oakland is stuffed full of Bay Area tech workers, especially junior engineers. They live there because it is relatively cheap compared to San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Jose, Milpitas etc. Tech companies recruit people from Oakland all the gosh-darn time. What Monique Woodard means is that she doesn't believe that tech companies will go looking for the black talent in Oakland and Atlanta. Why isn't she saying this explicitly? You be the judge.

"Changing the practices that perpetuate the overwhelmingly white and male character of the Silicon Valley workforce are not going to be easy"
Male: yep. White: nope. In Silicon Valley, Caucasians are actually under-represented per the general population; Chinese and Indians are significantly overrepresented. In my experience, people who openly identify as gay or transgender are also markedly over-represented. By many reasonable measures, Silicon Valley is one of the most diverse environments there is - there is a huge population of people whose national original is not the USA, and they aren't just Indians and Chinese: there are substantial Russian, Korean, Polish, Filipino, Vietnamese and other nationalities.

What Ms. Woodard is actually saying is: "there aren't enough engineers with dark skin - excluding Indians - in Silicon Valley." Well, Ms. Woodard, why is that? Is there a peculiar conspiracy in hiring where the recruiters and hiring deciders are wide open to all sorts of people except those who are of Afro-Caribbean extraction? Is that what you are saying, or is it such a ridiculous notion that you have to resort to camouflaging it behind the umbrella of "diversity"?

Behind Miley's comments, at least, there's a nugget of good sense. The competition for engineers in Silicon Valley and its environs, and to some extent other places like Seattle (Microsoft/Amazon) and New York (Big Finance) is intense. If big firms want to find a cheaper source of good engineers then they should look at other major cities, such as Atlanta, Dallas, Austin. This is something of a risk though: you need to start a new engineering office, which means recruiting many tens of new engineers in addition to migrating some of your existing senior engineers down there to help build and train the teams, reinforce company culture and keep strong communication with the root offices. Up until now, this has been more of a risk than just upping the game in recruiting from the Bay: I suspect soon the numbers will cross a threshold that makes new engineering offices sufficiently financially attractive to be worth a try.

Bringing in new engineers from Republican states such as Texas and Georgia is also excellent for increasing diversity in the heavily Democratic (and worse, Californian) engineering cohorts of Silicon Valley. Yet, why is it that I suspect that Miley, Woodard et al don't regard that kind of diversity as desirable?