Knowing When to Keep Your Mouth Shut

IBM

Back in ’77, I had recently taken a job at IBM Boca Raton, in the “advanced technology” department. It was beginning to dawn on me that I needed to be somewhat less nerdy in behavior, if not core, attitudes.

A few folks visited what was then Bell Labs, which had been responsible for a lot of seriously good tech for decades. The Bell people proposed a port of the UNIX operating system to our new minicomputer, the Series/1.

(“Minicomputer” is a dated term, but this was the seventies, and I learned coding using punch cards anyway. “Punch card” is also dated, youngsters.)

UNIX was developed by the Bell people based on their work at the MIT MULTICS project, and the name is a pun. I’d studied UNIX a coupla years before, at Case Tech, since it was perceived as a really good example of software development and impressive new tech. It was written in the C programming language, developed by the same guys. That was new in itself, since normally operating system code was done in machine language. (Yes, I’m oversimplifying a bit.)

When our team returned from Bell Labs, they were pretty tepid about the idea, but I was asked for an opinion. I felt that we could do better, but that UNIX would be great for the Series/1. Maybe I mentioned that it was far superior than the official S/1 operating system, developed using what some call the “waterfall” approach.

[One of the most eloquent descriptions of “waterfall” software development by Scott Adams]

 

My approach was politically and socially clueless. I failed to realize that local management had made a major investment in the official operating system, not only financial but also their careers might’ve depended on the success of the software. My suggestion was a non-starter, and I kinda understood that I needed to grow in non-technical areas.

Sure, I coulda fought hard for some kind of joint effort with Bell Labs to migrate UNIX to the S/1. It probably woulda meant frequent commutes to New Jersey, a mixed blessing, since I’m … from Jersey. (Inside joke for fans of Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars, part of the Thrilling Adventure Hour.)

My take is that UNIX on S/1 would be a great success, given its existing reputation and legitimization by Bell Labs and the phone networks of the time.

That woulda had vast repercussions on the whole computer industry, since much of the subsequent industry was based on UNIX systems, particularly the earliest Internet (ARPAnet and Sun Microsystems). Sun and related servers powered much of the early Net, including about a year of craigslist.

UNIX influenced a lot of development, for example, the filesystem structure of and later Windows. A UNIX variant, Mach, powers Apple Mac and even iOS.

Much more importantly, Linus Torvalds decided that the world needed an open source, free version of UNIX, and went ahead and did it.

The result is Linux, which powers much of the current Internet, it’s everywhere but not obviously so.

For that matter, Linux is the basis for Android, which runs most of the world’s smartphones.

If the Bell Labs folks, with minor help from me, made S/1 UNIX a big deal, this would have disrupted this history in unpredictable ways. It’s probably good that I was timid, and decided to learn un-nerdly social behaviors over the course of decades. (I can simulate normal social behavior, but observe my clock running out at about 90 minutes. Seriously.)

Instead, both a phone company in Jersey and one in Ann Arbor ported UNIX to the S/1, but years later, and it’s rare to find someone who remembers the S/1, or even UNIX.

My path took me less technical for the most part, spending 11 years at IBM as a Systems Engineer, kind of a tech consultant for customers. That’s a technical position, but not like a UNIX porting engineer. I never completely lost contact with what I was about, for example, I remember learning C in what amounted to a storage closet at IBM Detroit in ’85 or so. (If you live in Detroit, that’s the building on Nine Mile, where it hits Southfield and Northwestern.)

In ’95 I learned newer programming languages, Java and Perl, to participate in the incipient dot-com industry, helping develop Home Banking for Bank for America, while starting something called craigslist.

Nowadays I do lightweight customer service, and a great deal of public service and philanthropy. I know enough tech to have a meaningful conversation with people, more than I need.

I guess I’m much better off taking the path I did. The world didn’t need anyone to disrupt the industry, particularly the path of Linux. People do benefit from a mostly-free service (like craigslist), which helps put food on the table, in the short run, and in the long run, ain’t bad to “do well by doing good.”

Middle Photo: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2014-10-12/

Lower Photo: http://www.ricomputermuseum.org/Home/equipment/ibm-series1

4 More Websites I’m Impressed With

cjrEarlier this year, I shared 5 sites I’ve got bookmarked that I thought might surprise some folks. But maybe not, I’m a nerd, and some sites I’ve got bookmarked might be predictable. To be honest, I’m a sucker for those that do factchecking well and those that humor me.

On that note, here are 4 websites that impress me:

  1. Thrilling Adventure Hour – one of my very favorite podcasts, endlessly smart and entertaining.
  2. feedly – how I get my news feeds (really, it’s all the sites that matter to you, in one place – so it’s kinda the keeper of my news).
  3. Columbia Journalism Review – news regarding the evolution of news (disclaimer: I’m on their Board of Overseers).
  4.  Zatz Not Funny! – I love TV, and TV tech, and great site for the latter.

Honestly, I could keep going, and the list could keep growing, but I’ll save more for later… Hey, what are some sites that you’ve got bookmarked?

How the Internet Creates Possibility

ekcenter

Folks, I support the Ekialo Kiona Center (EK Center) and the Organic Health Response, and they’re creating real change. I get updates every so often, and I like to share the good work they’re doing. They seek to activate information technology, social solidarity, and environmental sustainability to turn the tide against HIV/AIDS across Lake Victoria (in Kenya).

The EK Center’s seen, first hand, how tech can turn a community into a global village, how a lizard in the security shed can shut everything down, and just how important local-global youth development is. This most recent update was about, both, turning a community into a global village and furthering development of youth locally and globally…

Pen Pals Meet via Global Broadband Connection

On the remote island of Mfangano, in the heart of Kenya’s Lake Victoria, a small but growing community center has emerged to support the residents in the area. Over the past 3 years, the craigslist Charitable Fund has helped support IT infrastructure at the Ekialo Kiona Center, in partnership with the Organic Health Response. 100% sustainably powered, this IT resource center has opened up a pipeline for Mfangano residents to access free and unlimited broadband Internet, the first of its kind in the region.

mfangano skype

Last week, this incredible resource allowed, for the first time ever, students on Mfangano Island, Kenya to meet their pen pals of 2 years in Minnesota, USA. On November 17th, Rutherford Elementary School in Stillwater, Minnesota held a school-wide assembly to meet their friends on Mfangano Island, Kenya. Students on both ends of the line were thrilled to finally see their friends from so far away.  As the Minnesota students filled into the gymnasium, students came up to the camera and vigorously waved to their friends.

A parent from Rutherford Elementary posted this last week,

You know when you ask your kids, “Did anything exciting happen in school today?” And they usually say NO. Well my 7 year old daughter’s answer yesterday was, “I got to see my pen pal over Skype. She lives on Mfangano Island in Kenya.” Followed up with, “That’s in Africa mom.” Because I was just staring at her speechless! SO cool!

skype

For the students in Kenya, this was their first time using the Internet to connect across the globe. “The kids couldn’t believe they were speaking to people in America!” Evelyne Magioki is a teacher at the Wakinga Junior Acadamy on Mfangano. “When the children receive the letters they realize that students in America are just like them.”

ek kids

Over the next year, students from Minnesota are helping to raise funds to support IT fieldtrips to the EK Center for their friends on Mfangano Island. With proper lessons in global communication, these kids will be connecting more than we can imagine!

 

Who should learn to code? Everyone.

I believe that everyone deserves the chance to learn how to code, if that’s what they want. And maybe that desire for equality’s based in my nerdly values, but it’s something that’s important. I’ve been supporting Girls Who Code for some time now, and they do real good work closing the gender gap in the tech and engineering sectors. Women in tech is an effort I’ve been supporting pretty frequently.

Speaking of coding, a coupla weeks ago Tim Heaton, who’s involved in Morristown community service, sent me an email about what’s going on with tech in Morristown, NJ. Tim’s email inspired me to ask  him to write a blog post for craigconnects…

Who should learn to code? Everyone.

Bill Gates :“Everyone in this country should learn to program a computer.”

Cube jockey: “The Everyone Should Learn to Program” movement is wrong because it falsely equates programming with essential skills like reading, writing, and math. In my 30- year programming career…… ”

Thirty years?

Thirty years ago there was one phone company. Michael Jordan was a freshman at NC. President Ronald Reagan made GPS available for civilian use. The McNugget was born. And the Apple IIe was introduced — one of its amazing features was that it could display lower- and upper-case letters!

Thirty years ago it was really difficult to learn a computer language. Running a program often meant getting up in the middle of the night for your allotted run time. Programs were boxes of punch cards. Machines talking to machines was sci-fi. A phone was something shared with neighbors. To this day a computer to my dad (an ex-IBM programmer) is a room-sized monster, nothing else qualifies. A PC is just a typewriter. A mobile phone is just a phone.

Career programmers don’t think just anyone can do it.

They will tell you that you need 10 years of coding experience to know enough to be “worthy.” And this was certainly true 30 years ago. Then it took a whole day to run a program, now it happens every time you turn on your phone. Most importantly, the open source community and free online learning sites is a true paradigm shift that has broken down the knowledge barrier.

In medieval times, the Guilds were founded to stifle competition by restricting knowledge. Today it is the same. Fortifying this false barrier in technology is the notion that jobs requiring even minimal skill need certification (with apologies to some of my favorite professions): Bar-Tending, Physical Trainer, Project Management or Database Administrator. The Guilds during the Middle Ages protected their members for the same reason as today’s: Job security. However, developing your ideas into a product doesn’t mean being chained in a cubicle for 10 years or lugging around a stack of cards in the middle of the night. Coding is no longer difficult. The open source movement has seen to that.

To the modern programming Guilds, I agree that it takes years to understand what others have written in the millions of lines of enterprise code. I’m not suggesting that everyone should be a programmer anymore than I would suggest that anyone could be a concert pianist. The difference is that developing useful applications with code is much, much easier than learning to play the piano.

So, if anyone could code, why is learning to code important?handel

Because being creative is not enough in today’s workplace. To be successful you must be able execute your ideas. And you have a far better idea of what is useful than the tradition-bound, 30-year career programmer – or some dude in Chennai for that matter .

A modern analogy may be found in music. Is the artist Pitbull a musician? If we could ask Friedrich Handel’s opinion – maybe not, and if we could shoot him back to Handel’s time – definitely not. Today however, Pitbull is a multi-platinum artist. Same thing with technology. One doesn’t need to be a computer prodigy to be a successful technologist, one needs to know how the technology works well enough to write a song or build an mobile application.

A note to Handel: I don’t think much of Pitbull’s music either.

It’s more important to understand the market and communicate with people, in both music and technology, than to write beautiful composition or code. Most of the successful people in technology are not great coders, but they understand enough to execute their ideas. To the career programmers – the cubicles are yours. To the executors of ideas – the world is ours.

Rosetta Stone or Code.org? – One final note.

The most amazing thing about computer languages is that, like music, they are universal. Whatever I create in computer code is understood by everyone else in the world, immediately and simultaneously. Multilingual education forgot to include the universal language: Computer languages.

Who should learn to code? Everyone who has a problem that needs solving.

Teach yourself and join the effort to teach kids how to solve problems: Code.org

 

Guest Blog Post by Tim Heaton

heaton

6 Women Making Waves for Social Justice in Tech

tech social justice

Folks, my teams and I have been following your comments about women in the tech sector that you really admire.

We’ve researched many of the women you’ve shared, and appreciate the time you took to mention ’em. The following is a list of women who really have their boots on the ground, all suggestions from comments. Please keep ’em coming. And maybe follow these women who are doing a lot of work for social good in the tech arena.

1. Selena Deckelmann, A major contributor to PostgreSQL and a Data Architect at Mozilla. She’s been involved with free and open source software since 1995 and began running conferences for PostgreSQL in 2007. In 2012, she founded PyLadiesPDX, a Portland chapter of PyLadies. Selena also founded Open Source Bridge and Postgres Open, and speaks internationally about open source, databases, and community when she’s not keeping chickens and giving technical talks.


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2. Leslie Hawthorn, Community Manager at Elasticsearch, where she leads community relations efforts. Leslie’s spent the past decade creating, cultivating, and enabling open source communities. She created the world’s first initiative to involve pre-university students in open source software development, launched Google’s #2 Developer Blog, received an O’Reilly Open Source Award in 2010, and gave a few great talks on many things open source.


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3. Deb Nicholson, Director of Community Outreach for the Open Invention Network, works at the intersection of technology and social justice. She’s been a free speech advocate, economic justice organizer and civil liberties defender. After working in Massachusetts politics for fifteen years, Deb became involved in the free software movement.

She’s the Community Outreach Director at the Open Invention Network and the Community Manager at Media Goblin. She also serves on the board at Open Hatch, a non-profit dedicated to matching prospective free software contributors with communities, tools and education.

(We could not find a Twitter account for Deb Nicholson…)

4. Elizabeth Krumbach Joseph, Automation and Tools Engineer at Hewlett-Packard on the OpenStack Infra team. Elizabeth’s also a Community Council member for Ubuntu and a Board Member for Partimus, an organization that puts Linux hardware in schools.

5. Keila Banks, A web designer, programmer, videographer, and publisher of content making use of mostly open source software. She speaks to audiences of adults and youth alike on being raised in a family filled with technology and how she uses Linux and open source software in ways that will challenge you to ask yourself, are you smarter than a 5th grade open source user?

(We could not find a Twitter account for Keila Banks…)

6. Val Aurora, Co-Founder  and Executive Director of the Ada Initiative, a nonprofit that seeks to increase women’s participation in the free culture movement, open source technology, and open source culture. Val’s a writer, programmer, and feminist activist, and speaks about women in open technology and culture, feminism, and harassment. She also co-founded Double Union, a feminist hackerspace in San Francisco


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3 Powerful Social Media Leaders of the Past

On the Internet we continue an old tradition of social media, pioneered in the Roman Republic. I look at the social media leaders in the past who were good at doing things. They really paved the way for what’s happening today with technology. The Internet and social media have been a way to give a real voice to the voiceless and real power to the powerless. It’s created a space for citizen journalism.

If we look back, we’ll realize that there were many powerful social media leaders of the past, for example:luther

1. Julius Caesar was an early blogger, even though it was very low tech.

Looks to me that Julius Caesar was not only a blogger re: the conquest of Gaul, but he kinda invented journalism in its most literal sense.

2. It got a little better with Martin Luther, who decided to use an evolved form of the same network. He got pretty good, blogging on a church blog. Luther blogged his way to major religious and social change.

Of course Luther was assisted by this printing press thing – and this evolved in the Twitter revolution of 1688. He used the efforts of a nerd, a guy Johannes Gutenberg, to great effect. (Gutenberg got great stuff done, but it was Luther who got big stuff done.)

3. John Locke, the one who lived in 1688, not the John Locke in Lost. Good show, but you could only understand it if you knew a lot about quantum physics. I know a lot of you want to hear it more about quantum physics, but more later… Just be glad I’m not going on a Game of Thrones rant.

(I’d like to credit two books for much of this: Tom Standage’s The Writing on the Wall and Jeff Jarvis’ Gutenberg the Geek.)

You can’t make change from the top down. The president’s the most powerful person in the world, but not that powerful. What’s powerful is when people in the trenches work together to get things done, and that’s what makes a difference.

My deal is to try to get folks to work together. It’s important to give a voice to people who never had one, and then to share their work. My stuff to date gives me a bit of a bully pulpit that I don’t need for myself. However, I use it on a daily basis to get the word out on behalf other others.

My joke, occasionally tweeted, is that I retweet a lot because 1) it’s good to share, and 2) it spares me the burden of original thought. Well, #2 has some truth to it, but #1 is the big deal for me.

Is There Such a Thing As Online Privacy?

Folks, do you think that online privacy really exists?

This is what we tried to find out when we surveyed 1,007 Americans. Rad Campaign, Lincoln Parks Strategy, and infographicI teamed up to uncover experiences and views about online privacy. We took the results and created an infographic to share with you.

This is the second portion of data from the poll to be released. Last month, we released an infographic showing that about half of Americans under 35 have been bullied, harassed, or threatened online, or know someone who has.

Here’s a snapshot of what the Online Privacy survey revealed:

  • 74 % of Americans are either very or somewhat concerned about having too much personal information about them online.
  • On average, those surveyed believe that 64% of Americans have too much personal information about themselves online.
  •  People under 35 have more trust in social media sites than any other age demographic.
  • 70% are certain or think it’s very likely that social networks collect personal data such as interests, political affiliation, purchase habits, and what content is clicked, and then sell that data to advertisers to target ads and/or content at them.

privacy laws

If Internet users are so concerned about their privacy, do they read the terms of service (TOS)?

  • 66% either just click the agree box without reading any of the TOS, or skim through the TOS then click agree.
  • Only 17% carefully read the TOS before agreeing.
  • More college grads (27%) than non-college grads (18%) just click agree without reading.

The way I see it, more people need to read the TOS before signing up for these sites so they understand what kinds of data they’re giving to these platforms.  Stronger privacy laws could be useful too.

Folks, are you concerned about your online privacy? And if so, what are you doing about it?

Check out the full infographic and data here.

 

Your Ideas to End Online Harassment

Hey, I’ve been reaching out to my networks to crowdsource ways to end online harassment after the release of the Online Harassment Infographic that revealed that 25% of harassmentAmerican adults have been bullied, threatened, or harassed online, or know someone who has.

The first step toward dealing with unacceptable behavior is to understand the problem, then we can get rid of it. To that end, I’ve been asking people on the ground what we can do to get rid of this problem.

We got lots of good responses, and I’m including some of them here:

“Trolls generally shut down their online accounts because they don’t like being trolled themselves. Internet anonymity should not give people the right to attack others in a way they never would do in real life, so outing them seems like the best option!” – JeriAnn Graves

“Unplug, walk away, use a pseudonym, increase your privacy controls… All of these are perfectly viable solutions to online harassment. Control what information is available online, and you control the harassers. That said, I really think Facebook needs to tighten up on its privacy settings. I don’t want to appear on search results, I don’t want pictures of me showing up anywhere, and I certainly don’t want jerks I knew from high school to be able to contact me.” – Cameron Barker: Mild-Mannered Salesman by Day, Happily Cynical Writer by Night

In response to Cameron,

Kelly Diels Rostant, Online Marketing Manager at Goldbeck Recruiting Inc, said:
“Telling the people who receive this kind of treatment to unplug or walk away allows the people doing the harassing to win. They’ve effectively silenced their targets.”

“I think we all need to stop thinking of this as someone else’s problem. If you see someone being harassed, lend your voice in censure. If you don’t like the way someone speaks to you, tell them so and assert your right to be respected. Bullies’ power comes from fear and avoidance and from people looking the other way, or being glad it’s not them. Let’s take away their power by being clear that the way they behave is not acceptable, and teach our children to do the same.” – Claire Weatherston, Communication and Events Coordinator at Western State College of Law

“Treat others the way you wish to be treated yourself.” – Anthony Simonetti, Marketing Communications at New Horizons, Six Sigma Green Belt

“Trustcloud (crowd sourcing) is a solution to end harrasment from the web. It is as easy as being prompting upon accepting/making a connection, making friends/accepting friend request or being followed/following a person the user gets a trust score of the requesting person/relevant person.” – Zorays Khalid

“DO use decoy selections in report abuse forms, but keep it simple: ‘This is annoying’ vs ‘this is dangerous’ can be differentiated.” – Aria Stewart

no-harassment“Opening a police file when there is harassment can also signal that their actions will be met head-on, and hiding behind technology is no longer going to work for them but against them.”
– Darlene Rudolph, PMP

“LinkedIn should remove the anonymous views option which, in my view, provides cover for those who may be into sleuthing, creeping, and other cowardly bully-like behaviors.”
– Susan Howes, CTDP, Senior Business Analyst, Workplace Learning Specialist

“Surely there’s a startup in the valley somewhere working on a way to monetize kindness?”
– Jubal Ince, Talent Community Advisor at Workday

“Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience. Works every time.” – Christine Wilinsky, Legal Document Preparation and Writing Services

“I think we need to stop looking upon the internet as being somehow at fault for all the bad things that can happen on it. It’s the people on the internet that are the problem, not the tool itself. So my answer to the original headline question is – first stop harassment in the offline world and the problem will be solved.” – Patrick Moran

“Too often intent is only ‘proven’ after the harasser has already harmed/ killed the harassed. I think harassment should be called out and dealt with, otherwise all of us are just consenting to that kind of behavior with silence – not cool.” – Ida Wepener, Technical writer at Laragh Courseware

“I would recommend the following: Ignore inappropriate messages- avoid receiving anonymous or unrecognized calls –report the in-person harassment to the authorities if the harasser leaves you no choice – have the communication terminated by the network to save time, self respect and appreciation-turn to your friends or your companion for support and understanding – remember it’s not your fault –try not to blame yourself-get out of the vicious cycle a.s.a.p.” – Dimitra Tatuli, counseling and psychotherapy

 

Which of these suggestions resonates with you? I want to continue working on these efforts, so please let me know other ideas you have to end online harassment. More to  come…

5 Sites I’ve Got Bookmarked That Might Surprise You

Hey, I’m frequently asked which sites I recommend. I tend to be overly minimalist, but beyond that, I mostly use RSS feeds instead of visiting sites. Though, here are some sites that I make a point to visit pretty often…

computer-bookmark

(in no particular order)

  1. politicalwire.com I rely on Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire for straight, fair political news, he gets right to the point. It’s an eagerly anticipated part of my news reading.
  2. io9.comio9’s a daily publication that covers science, science fiction, and the world of tomorrow. I was very much into sci fi and fantasy in the 50s and 60s – back then sci fi and fantasy were mostly books and very little media – and often still am.
  3. buzzmachine.com – This is where Jeff Jarvis blogs about media and news, he’s the real deal.
  4. dilbert.com Okay, my life has much in common with the Dilbert comic strip, and I’ve been Dilbert for much of my life. Having a sense of humor helps.
  5. gigaom.com This site provides insight on disruptive companies, people, and trends. Gigagom provides a credible analysis of emerging technologies. [UPDATE: GigaOm has closed down. Another good site to check out is http://readwrite.com, another one of my favorites.]

What sites do you visit often that might surprise folks, but are really useful? I’d love to check ’em out.

 

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