Female English major says women can be nerds


“Women Cracked Wartime Codes. They Can Fix Tech Today, Too.” (nytimes)…

It wasn’t industrial might that enabled the Allies to win World War II, nor huge oceans that protected the U.S. from the consequences of years of incompetence:

It’s not too much of a stretch to say that inclusion — the willingness to welcome genius — is one reason the right side won the war. The country also benefited from the contributions of other marginalized groups, including Navajo code talkers, Tuskegee airmen and other black troops (including women) serving in a segregated military.

The Google heretic comes back to haunt us:

More than 70 years after that war ended, it is astonishing to see doubts re-emerge about women’s ability to do high-level intellectual work. Far from being put to rest, old prejudice has found new expression in naysayers like James Damore, the Google engineer, now fired, who suggested in an infamous memo that women are shut out of top jobs in Silicon Valley because they are not “biologically” suited to the brain work of tech.

(But doesn’t this mischaracterize what the heretic said? Damore’s point was that typical women preferred to do things other than stare at screens, right? Not that women were less capable of staring at screens?)

We could kick the North Koreans all the way to Mars if only we could dilute our military’s toxic concentration of white cisgender heterosexual males:

The same animus lies behind the Trump administration’s eagerness to exclude refugees, and behind the proposed ban on transgender people serving in the military. In gratuitously acting to exclude willing citizens from military service, the president has declined to avail himself of the array of ingenuity and courage this nation has to offer. … we’re losing a key military edge and could lose a technical one, if we give in to the notion that some groups are more gifted than others.

(Is the author right about this? On the one hand, no transgender person has ever been accused of steering a Navy ship into a collision with a freighter. On the other hand, aside from Chelsea Manning, for how many transgender soldiers do we have a public record of their contributions to our nation’s security?)

What’s the educational and career background of the author of this piece that advocates for more women to be included in the world of nerds (regardless of whether additional women actually want to be in that world)? Her biography says “Liza [Mundy] has an AB from Princeton University and an MA in English literature from the University of Virginia.” She seems to have worked primarily as a writer since completing her studies in English.

Idea for a TV show: Saudi Royal Family


The Saudi royal family has been in the news lately (example). The Turkish TV show The Magnificent Century (about the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century) has proved popular on Netflix and around the world (and, as a bonus, was produced without a lot of Hollywood folks having sex with each other and then litigating afterwards). A lot of the drama in the Ottoman Empire was driven by competition among members of the royal family and nobility. Saudi Arabia is one of the few modern governments that has a similar family dynamic.

Why not a TV series about the modern-day Saudi royal family and its intrigues?


Recliner seating to attract older students at colleges?


I attended a lecture by Stephon Alexander (professor at Brown; author of The Jazz of Physics) at the Brandeis physics department. After about 20 minutes I noticed that the hard wooden fold-down seat and the limited legroom were nowhere near as comfortable as what AMC Theaters provides to its customers at a much lower price per hour.

Given that colleges refuse to give up on the lecture method of instruction and that they insist on raising tuition every year, why not try to reel in a wealthier and more mature population of students with recliner seating?

For students who like to be on Facebook or watch YouTube during lecture, the seats could have built-in mobile phone holders.

Readers: Given rising rates of obesity, falling rates of physical fitness, rising tuition, and rising expectations of college-as-Four-Seasons-resort-like-experience, what should the lecture hall be like?

Remembering Chris Shewokis


Chris Shewokis, one of our airport’s nicest people was buried yesterday, the victim of a non-aviation accident. He was 51 and had worked at Hanscom Field for his entire career.

Chris endured a horrific commute (minimum of one hour each way) so that his daughters could enjoy the great outdoors and good schools of southern New Hampshire. He was a big man and it can’t have been any fun stuck in two hours of traffic in a compact car. However, he never complained about this. Maybe commuting is the ultimate parental sacrifice in our modern times?

Chris was perhaps the most cheerful person at the airport. In over 15 years I never heard him raise his voice or utter an unkind word. Nor can I remember him without a smile on his face. In an era when complaints about inequality find a ready audience, a guy whose job included helping the richest people on the planet get in and out of their Gulfstreams never once expressed envy or bitterness regarding his relative financial position in life. At the same time he never provided a less warm welcome to pilots of single-engine piston airplanes ordering 10 gallons of 100LL.

Chris was most recently manager of the Rectrix FBO and provided an inspiring example of management style. If you didn’t know the management structure and didn’t reflect on the question of why someone in a jacket and tie was connecting a tow bar to a turboprop, you might never have guessed that he was the boss, seeing him out on the ramp working shoulder-to-shoulder with the newest guys. He never asked anyone to do something he wasn’t willing and able to do himself.

Current and former employees gathered at the funeral home and shared their memories. “On my last day,” said a guy who moved on/up to a maintenance shop in Manchester, New Hampshire, “he told me that if there was ever anything that I needed for my career or a personal favor I should call him.”

I hadn’t previously met Chris’s wife and daughters, but at the gathering it was plain that Chris and Suzanne had built a strong extended family network for their daughters. The girls talked about all of the outdoor activities that they’d done with their dad, including ice fishing(!), and how much that time had meant to them. One benefit of living in the digital age is that we were able to see hundreds of photos of family activities and maybe that will help the girls keep their memories refreshed. Still, a terrible loss for the children and difficult to comprehend or understand.

I will miss Chris.


Calling in an airstrike on my own position (iOS 11 and refusal to leave Photos in iCloud)


My war with iOS 11 is over.

Background: The “pocket camera” feature of a typical smartphone represents roughly half of the value of the device to me. Thus when Apple silently changed the format of photos to HEIC, which few Windows applications can understand, half of the value of my iPhone 7 Plus was destroyed.

One of the strategies that I tried for getting back to something useful was enabling Dropbox’s “Camera Uploads”. This caused Dropbox to try to upload every photo that I had ever taken with any Apple device connected to iCloud. You might think that enabled camera uploads would give users the option to say “just pictures that I take from now on, not ones that I took 2 years ago,” but you’d be wrong.

Dropbox would make an API call within iOS that would result in the full-res photo being downloaded from iCloud before it was pushed back up into Dropbox’s cloud. This quickly filled up the iPhone’s memory, rendering the device useless. Although I had deinstalled Dropbox and “Optimize Storage” for Photos was selected, the phone would not drop the copies of stuff from iCloud.

I tried disabling and reenabling iCloud. I tried resetting all settings.

Finally, in homage to embattled Vietnam platoons, I called in an airstrike on my own position, wiping the entire device and restoring from a recent backup. Although the backup post-dated the “full storage” debacle, apparently iCloud photo copies are not stored additionally as part of the backup. The iCloud caching function went back to its normal behavior, holding onto only a few GB on the device.

[Separately, the phone says that 7 GB are devoted to “System”. That seems like a lot for a Unix variant. Does it start out this porky or is that huge size somehow related to the fact that I was using an iPhone for a long time under iOS 10 and then upgraded (rather than reinstalled) iOS 11?]

Thus ends my personal story for Veterans Day. I think it illustrates how fortunate we are that some of our most difficult struggles are with sysadmin.

PBS propaganda series about Vietnam


“Making history safe again: What Ken Burns gets wrong about Vietnam” (Salon) is an interview with a professional historian, Christian Appy, who says that the government-funded TV station promotes, as far as possible, the idea that the government-funded Vietnam War was a just and good idea. The government-funded TV station particularly pushes the idea of “American exceptionalism” in this $30 million series, which is useful when you’re asking people to pay taxes at 2X the rates of the most efficient countries. The U.S. government is an exceptional force for good on Planet Earth and therefore taxpayers should be happy to fund it with up to 100 percent of their earnings.

Readers: Who has watched this series? How does it compare to what you’ve learned from other historical sources? What else are you thinking about on this Veterans Day?


Kayakers defend Angelika Graswald


“Woman Who Sabotaged Fiancé’s Kayak Is Sentenced to Up to 4 Years” (nytimes) is interesting for the comments from experienced kayakers who say that unscrewing the drain plug couldn’t have been sufficient to kill the (life-insured) fiancé. On the one hand, this makes sense because Ms. Graswald could have made more money by going through with the marriage and collecting alimony or child support (see Angelika Graswald Life Insurance versus Child Support net present value calculation) and therefore the financial motive isn’t completely solid. But, on the other hand, a surfer/kayaker in California did and filmed the test (he sank).

That one guy with an action cam can end the speculation is one of the things that I love about the Internet.

Attributing failure to sexism


“A Smart Breast Pump: Mothers Love It. VCs Don’t: The financial struggles of a young startup beloved by mothers highlights a blind spot of the male-dominated venture capital industry.” (Bloomberg) was linked-to by a Harvard professor friend on Facebook. She introduced the article with “Here’s a startup with an excited market, meeting a real need, but having a hard time raising VC funding bc boobs are hard to talk about in board rooms.”

We know that these entrepreneurs raised $6.5 million. But now they’ve spent all of it and couldn’t raise more. The entrepreneurs, the Bloomberg journalist, and the Harvard professor are confident that sexism and/or venture capitalists not wanting to discuss breast pumps explain the failure to get the next stage of funding. But does stating this as a fact make it true?

Let’s see if there could be another explanation…

The market leader in this field is Medela, a Swiss company with 1,740 employees and more than $500 million per year in revenue, mostly thanks to Obamacare mandates that insurance companies give customers a new breast pump for each new baby.  I know people who have four kids and… because Americans get a new Medela pump “free” (i.e., paid for by other Americans) with each kid, four Medela pumps (two brand-new in boxes in the closet, one that gets used, and one that was unboxed and used temporarily somewhere). The basic Medela product gets 4.5 stars from 1,675 Amazon customers. Medela is in every Target, every CVS, every Walmart, etc.

The founder of the startup, Janica Alvarez, has a master of science in bioethics (LinkedIn). Her co-founder, Jeffrey Alvarez, has a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering (LinkedIn) plus an MBA.

What if this startup can out-compete Medela? The other successful companies in this sector are Philips (Dutch, with nearly $30 billion per year in revenue) and Ameda AG, a private Swiss company founded in 1962 (hard to find revenue numbers).

So the proposition was “fund innovative Americans with minimal credentials and experience to compete with boring Europeans who have nothing more than Ph.D.s in the relevant fields, a centuries-old tradition of craftsmanship, and billions of dollars in current revenue.” Investors in Theranos tried this against Siemens and, starting in 2015, learned that hopes and dreams did not magically materialize.

[Of course it is possible that a clever engineer who doesn’t work at one of the current market leaders could design an improvement to the existing products. But then it is just as possible that the market leaders can respond with their own improvements and push the improved version into every Target, CVS, and Walmart a few months later.]

Is this an example of Americans having reached the stage where we can blame all of our failures on an -ism?

Social Justice Education Facilitators


Oberlin College is hiring Social Justice Education Facilitators via this web page:

Job Summary: The Social Justice Education Facilitators (SJEF) helps with the creation and implementation of the MRC’s social justice curriculum and education program.

Responsibilities: Be trained to facilitate Power, Privilege, and Oppression Training, Beyond the Binary Training, and Microaggressions Trainings; … Document and organize various resources on anti-oppression work

Qualifications: They must also have a working knowledge on the various forms of oppression, including but not limited to: race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, citizenship, etc.

Unfortunately, social justice doesn’t seem to pay a fair $15/hour wage (only $8.15/hour).


Review of Ellen Pao’s book


“The Self-Styled Martyr of Silicon Valley: The odd tale of Ellen Pao” (Commentary) is a review of Ellen Pao’s Reset book (see Ellen Pao writes something kind of interesting). The review summarizes the facts:

Pao is a former corporate attorney and Silicon Valley entrepreneur who went to work for the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins and then, in 2012, filed a $16 million gender-discrimination lawsuit against it. She alleged workplace retaliation by a partner at the firm with whom she had a brief affair. Then she alleged that she was fired in retaliation for the lawsuit. Potential damages could have run as high as $144 million.

Is it true that she was an “entrepreneur”? Wikipedia says that she worked for a couple of established companies, such as BEA Systems, prior to joining Kleiner Perkins. Is any non-government job in the U.S. now considered “entrepreneurship”? [And remember that she could have made a lot more than $144 million without risking an unfavorable jury verdict; see Litigious Minds Think Alike: Divorce litigators react to the Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins lawsuit]

Apparently Pao is working her kid pretty hard for the book, having the sad little nine-year-old wonder about the gender balance of a “coding camp.” (Did this happen organically? I’ve seen a lot of gender-unbalanced groups of children and never heard one comment on the gender balance.)

We learn that Pao is a good example of The Son Also Rises and also regression to the mean. Her parents both have engineering PhDs; Pao earned a bachelor’s in engineering and then a law degree.

Based on my experience as a software expert witness, Pao’s description of big law firm life isn’t recognizable:

Pao goes to work for Cravath, Swaine & Moore, … one male partner would always lose his copy of the documents they were working on and would have to look over the shoulder of one of his female underlings. She saw him one day staring down the shirt of one of her female colleagues …. In another instance, “a senior partner would… plant himself just outside the doorway of my colleague’s office, licking an ice cream cone while staring at her.”

Perhaps due to the fact that law firms bill by the hour, I’ve never seen one lawyer simply stand in a hallway for any reason.

The reviewer is as skeptical as the jury regarding Pao’s stated reasons for her failure to make senior partner at Kleiner:

This is all perfectly believable [including the senior partner putting on a display of idleness for everyone else at Cravath to see?], but the problem is that things went downhill for Pao when she started sleeping with one of the other partners—one Ajit Nazre, who was married and had children. … how old do you have to be before you recognize yourself as a walking cliché? Sleeping with a married guy at the office who promises to leave his wife for you?

Apparently estimating the probability of your married sex partner suing his or her spouse is not a subject taught at Princeton or Harvard!

Pao’s conversion (as seen in Bruno) of Buddy Fletcher from homosexual to heterosexual is touched on only lightly in the review: “Fletcher had relationships with men before he married Pao.” This review is the first place that I’ve seen a description of Mr. Fletcher blazing a trail recently followed by some Hollywood celebrities:

It’s no surprise that Pao’s book doesn’t get into the fact that Fletcher himself has been accused of sexual harassment and discrimination by employees. In 2003, Fletcher was sued by a man he’d hired to manage his home in Connecticut. The man alleged that Fletcher made sexual advances toward him. A few years later, Fletcher was sued by another property manager, who claimed he had been fired after refusing Fletcher’s sexual advances. Both men reached confidential settlements with Fletcher.

Who else loves Ellen Pao as much as I do? “The case did make Pao a feminist talking point for a time. She notes that she earned praise from Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg for her brave stance.”

In some ways the most interesting part of the review is that proof by repetition succeeds. The author of the review is Naomi Schaefer Riley. Her Wikipedia page indicates no technical training and no experience ever working for a tech firm or even living in a part of the country with a significant tech industry presence. But she feels comfortable talking about the bad stuff that happens in Silicon Valley:

For all her faults, Pao is not wrong about the “brogrammer” atmosphere at these companies. … At many Silicon Valley firms, men really do act like they are in a college dorm. Their conversations and behavior are completely inappropriate for work,

How does Ms. Riley know that the 35-year-old programmers vesting-in-peace at Google are partying like fraternity brothers? What is the evidence that the typical Silicon Valley firm includes “conversations and behavior” that are more “inappropriate” than what might occur in a car dealership or an airline crew lounge?


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