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As with most Internet debates, the heat to light ratio in the ‘Women in Technology’ discussion is rather poor. The problem is that we never actually get to have a single, complete discussion without it turning into a related one.

Here are a few of the points that people seamlessly pivot between during this discussion, followed by my idea for a way forward.

Women Aren’t Able To Do The Work

This is a short post, so I’m not going to dignify this one with any data. The data say this is false. Women have been shown repeatedly to have the cognitive ability to be top entrepreneurs, engineers, developers, etc. For any questions, see Marrisa Mayer. There is plenty of data showing that men are more cognitively extreme than women, meaning there are likely more brilliant (and dim) men, but this applies more to theoretical physics and retardation than FOSS and tech startups.

Most Women Don’t Want To Do The Work

This seems highly supported by data and I believe it likely to be obvious to anyone not suffering from something like the moralistic fallacy, i.e. someone who wants this to be untrue and therefore fights it at every opportunity.

If you talk to most women in the United States, or heck, in the world, I think the chances of finding one who would like to spend her time programming in her spare time, or living a startup life, are extremely low. And I mean low compared to asking men the same questions. Yes, there are female programmers, but how many love it compared to men vs. doing well at it because it’s a job? How many want to do startups and live, eat, breathe something technical and stressful 24/7? Well, we have a few indications: first of all, only around 1-5% of open source developers are female. For startups the numbers are very similar.

It seems obvious to me from both data and anecdote that most women simply don’t like technology nearly as often as men. And even if they get into it, they get good at it and can thrive but are less likely to obsess about it and take it home, contribute to FOSS projects, and subject themselves to the stress of startup life. This also seems quite natural based on human evolution, which studies are showing as well.

I urge anyone female and highly technical (Yes, I know you’re out there) to do two things: think about how many female friends are like you compared to how many women you have met, know, and are your friends of friends, who think you’re quite the exception. Secondly, keep reading because I’m probably not concluding anything like what you think I am.

Women Are Feminized Into Not Liking Technology

This argument says, “Society forces girls to play with pink dolls, and keeps them away from math, and that’s why they grow up and don’t like technology.” The counter argument here, which is backed by data, is that girls naturally prefer certain things without conditioning, and that boys prefer other things. Trucks, dolls, war, babies, etc. The argument can be made that being a highly technical tinkerer and FOSS developer / hacker / startup entrepreneur is one of those “male” things.

I tend to think both are happening to some degree, but with more weight on innate desires due to evolution. But I will certainly not dismiss anyone saying that there’s a feminization influence in society that inclines women towards certain roles, jobs, and careers.

Women Who Like Tech Are Pushed Out By Neanderthals

This is the “men treat me differently, don’t respect me, challenge me too often, discount my ideas, make stupid jokes, assume I’m an idiot”, etc. narrative. A number of threads over the years, and at least one personal friend has given me this perspective, and I absolutely believe it to be a real phenomenon in many cases. I’m not sure how anyone can who is aware of his/her surroundings with experience in these fields can deny this.

My answer to this is two-fold: 1) if you know anything about culture, male-female dynamics, beta male issues, etc. you should understand that there is potential for weirdness when a room full of life-long intellectual men are introduced to a female teammate. There are issues with wanting to court her, wanting to be too nice, wanting to punish her in an arena where he has the power for once, etc. Basically, a number of bias layers get overlayed onto the situation so that it’s difficult for things to be normal at first.

And yes, I know there are some teams of men that look right past gender and barely notice and everything is fine. Not all men in technology have these issues, and not all women experience problems, but when it happens nobody should be surprised. This doesn’t mean ignore it, or pretend it’s ok (naturalistic fallacy), but it means you look foolish by being surprised beyond the first time it happens.

Second, I don’t believe this type of negative treatment, which I totally accept does happen some percent of the time (see above) accounts significantly for the lack of women in these fields and positions. It’s part of it, but not most of it. This is a complex sub-point that thirsts for data, but that’s my opinion based on everything I’ve observed and consumed.

Pointing Out That Women Usually Don’t Like Technology Is Harmful

It’s hard to refute this. I think it’s absolutely true that some lesser minds will come to the conclusion that because most women don’t like tech, it must mean that the women who do like it aren’t as good at it. That’s highly unfortunate, but we should resist the temptation to silence an explanation of a phenomenon based on it being uncomfortable, or based on the fact that some will draw poor conclusions from it. We should address the poor conclusion, not try to suppress the facts that an idiot improperly used to get to it.

Women Are Valuable to Technical Teams

Some take the position that women add something special to teams as a function of simply being a woman.Recent studies have shown that adding women to brainstorming sessions improves the output significantly. I don’t see how someone can oppose this at this point, given the data available. Male-heavy teams seem very likely to benefit by adding a woman to the mix — even above and beyond what the woman brings in terms of skills and talents. There is, by the way, a bit of irony in the fact that it’s due to a fundamental difference between men and women.

Women Should Be in More FOSS Projects and Startups

This does not follow. The problem is with the word should. Should according to who? Nature? Human Resources? Intergalactic Justice? Who determines how many males should be in certain fields, or how many females should be in others? The problem is that the concept of “should” fundamentally hinges on all the questions above and requires the context of those answers.

A Path Forward

So let’s assume you somewhat or mostly agree with what was said above. What conclusions can we draw from these positions, and what prescriptive guidance can we extract from those conclusions that will produce the most benefit for everyone? Here is my summary of the overall situation and how we should proceed:

  1. It is true that most women don’t want these FOSS and startup jobs that they’re under-represented in.
  2. It is also true that there are some that do.
  3. We should be doing everything we can at the education and societal support level to ensure that women who are interested in math, science, engineering, computer science, etc. are not discouraged from pursuing those fields.
  4. We should simultaneously realize that many of the forces in society that discourage women from doing FOSS or startups or Wall Street trading have been in place for tens of thousands of years, and we shouldn’t conflate the observation and acknowledgment of natural human tendencies within women with evil. Most women aren’t interested in technology, most women eschew overly intellectual pursuits in order to attract men, most women want to have children around their 20s or 30′s, most women want to live stress-free and provide stability for those children. We cannot blame this on men or on evil; it’s evolutionary psychology and it’s harmful to reject truth on the grounds that it’s uncomfortable.
  5. The fact that this is what ‘most’ women do means nothing. There are millions who do something different, and they should not be mistreated based on preconceived notions that have are often plain wrong. To do so is primitive and backward and it needs to stop.
  6. That being said, if men raise eyebrows because a woman is the only woman in the room working on the Linux kernel, or pitching a startup, or working 28 hour days on a trading floor while screaming their heads off, they shouldn’t get upset and quit the field because of it. It is noteworthy because it doesn’t happen often, and the sooner women get over that fact the sooner they’ll be able to ask that men get over it as well.

In sum, we should acknowledge that the natural forces that make men and women different lead to differing gender ratios in the workplace while simultaneously building the progressive education and intellectual frameworks to function as if these forces don’t exist at all.

This way when these tendencies do manifest we’re not surprised and we don’t pretend they aren’t present or that they’re something to be ashamed of, and when someone is the exception (as millions will be) we as a progressive and enlightened society ensure they face no resistance on the grounds of what women “usually” do.

This is the only correct way to proceed. Anything less is barbaric — either due to rejecting uncomfortable truth on behalf of emotion or due to using nature to perpetuate discrimination. The sooner we adopt this approach the better it will be for everyone.

::

Schmidt’s argument—a highly cogent and persuasive piece of propaganda—is dead-on: In the narrative arc of Google’s story, Siri is indeed a significant development. In fact, Siri is arguably the most significant development in Google’s story since, well, the advent of Google.

Sure, this story includes Facebook, the social web juggernaut that Google failed to see charging towards it on the distant horizon, and the Bing/Yahoo nexus that Microsoft assembled at magnificent cost. But in the retrospective view of of 3-5 years from now, these developments—while major—will likely pale in comparison to that fateful April day when Apple acquired Siri.

This is because Siri transforms computers from “passive” participants in the search process to “active” ones and in so doing urinates all over Google’s model. Instead of taking queries and then passively spitting out 10 blue links—which you then have to mine for the correct information—Siri actively goes and gets the correct information, herself.

Well, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it does seem logical. Very interesting.

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Historian Robert Darnton says there have been four great Information Ages in all human history, where a new technology has transformed how we communicate and interact—and he goes back to 4000 BC Mesopotamia for the first of these, the invention of writing. Then comes movable type, then mass steam-powered printing of the Industrial Age that makes books available to the masses for the first time in history, and now, our own Information Age where anyone can “Broadcast Yourself.” We’re 15 years into something so paradigm-changing that we have not yet adjusted our institutions of learning, work, social life, and economic life to account for the massive change. Fifteen years in is when people tend to start thinking about technological change in less fearful and more practical ways. They give up their nostalgia for the “before” and then start to focus on now, on how we can make the tools and resources available to them as productive as possible. In other words, we are right on time to give up techno-phobia and to tackle the problems and opportunities of the digital world with good sense, pragmatics, realism, and purpose. Once we absorb the realization that we’ve already changed, and that we’re actually doing pretty well despite major realignments in our lives, then we can think about how we want to take this amazing new tool and use it in a way that better serves our lives. Being afraid is never useful. It’s time to survey our lives and figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how we can make real and practical improvements in our schools, our workplace, our every day lives.

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A bold experiment in distributed education, “Introduction to Databases” will be offered free and online to students worldwide during the fall of 2011. Students will have access to lecture videos, receive regular feedback on progress, and receive answers to questions. When you successfully complete this class, you will also receive a statement of accomplishment. Taught by Professor Jennifer Widom, the curriculum draws from Stanford’s popular Introduction to Databases course. A syllabus and more information is available here. Sign up below to receive additional information about participating in the online version when it becomes available.

I love where this type of thing is going…

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Media_httpstaticdanie_fnaxe

Thoughts? How can I improve this diagram?

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The reason the bacterium works so well, Doyle finds, is that it is organized in much the same way as the Internet. Both the Internet and E. coli are conceptually organized like a bow tie, with a broad fan of incoming material flowing into a central knot and then flowing into another broad fan of outgoing material. On the Internet, the incoming fan is made up of data from a huge range of sources— e-mail, YouTube videos, Skype phone calls, and the like. In E. coli, the incoming fan is made up of the many sorts of food it eats. As information and food move into their respective bow ties, they get homogenized: E. coli breaks down its food into a few building blocks, while the Internet breaks down its motley incoming data streams into streams of standardized packets.

From the knot, both bow ties then fan out. E. coli turns its building blocks into DNA, proteins, membrane molecules, and any other special ingredient it needs. On the Internet, data packets reach a computer, where they can be reassembled into the original e-mail, YouTube videos, Skype telephone calls, and the like.

A bow-tie organization allows both the Internet and E. coli to run quickly and efficiently. If E. coli (like all bacteria, indeed like all living things) did not have a bow tie, it would have to use a different set of enzymes to make each of the thousands of different molecules it needs from each type of food. Rather than use such a huge, slow system, E. coli just points all its metabolic pathways into the same bow-tie knot, making everything from the same raw materials. Likewise, the Internet’s bow-tie architecture means that it doesn’t have different ways to handle, say, e-mail traffic and instant-message traffic. Everything passes through as the same types of data packets.

Fascinating.

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browserstats_2011

I spent yesterday on the front page of Hacker News for my git primer, which resulted in over 12K page views and some fascinating insight into what technologies are being used by HN’s readers. Here are some of the main data points:

  1. Chrome is stomping Firefox among HN-browsing developers (50% vs. 27%).
  2. Almost 10% of readers came from mobile devices (8.62%). That’s pretty stunning to me. We all know mobile dominance is coming, but this seems high for being this early.
  3. Apple is still crushing among developers (most hits were for the post about git), with almost double the hits of all the competitors in the next nine positions.

mobilestats_july2011

My takeaways are that mobile browsing is accelerating faster than I thought, and that Chrome and iOS are dominating among those most capable of using alternatives. ::

Notes

1 Keep in mind that a git primer is going to call out an even more specialized subset of the HN population, so this isn’t representative of *all* HN readers.
2 I’ve been predicting Chrome’s domination since its beta launch.
3 My web server configuration giggled very slightly at the traffic . :)

On 8 June, 2011, Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Akamai and Limelight Networks will be amongst some of the major organisations that will offer their content over IPv6 for a 24-hour “test flight”. The goal of the Test Flight Day is to motivate organizations across the industry – Internet service providers, hardware makers, operating system vendors and web companies – to prepare their services for IPv6 to ensure a successful transition as IPv4 addresses run out.

Please join us for this test drive and help accelerate the momentum of IPv6 deployment.

How To Take Part

Interested in joining the other organisations that are taking part in this initiative? Select your type of organisation below and you’ll find everything you need to participate in World IPv6 Day:

Today is a big day for the Internet.

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swarm

I just had an interesting idea: what if a large, centrally controlled country such as China were to develop and deploy a national control agent whereby a central command could wield upward of a billion hosts simultaneously.

Naturally, my first thoughts go to DDoS, but there could be legitimate uses as well. They could charge companies for load testing. They could send the botnet jobs requiring massive computation. It’d be an Internet-connected supercomputer capable of ungodly force.

They’d want to pay close attention to security of course, since having a remote control agent on so many computers would be disastrous if the agent itself and/or its C&C were cracked, but any government crazy enough to try such a thing might not care (see China and its WoW mining prisoners).

Hell, this might not be fiction. I don’t put much past China at this point. ::

Microsoft will start to fail within six quarters. Blank put a timeline on Microsoft suffering the kind of huge loss that drove IBM to restructure itself back in 1993: six quarters from now. He thinks Steve Ballmer is a “miserable failure” and that the board should be blamed for not replacing him. He also suggests that buying Nokia and installing Stephen Elop as CEO might be a solution.

And Active Directory? Exchange? Office?

I’m not sure what he means by doomed.

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Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)
renting a server per hour (from small to huge)
Amazon Elastic MapReduce
renting a couple of servers per hour as an hadoop cluster (to crunch a lot of data)
Auto Scaling
renting just enough servers as necessary (using more with a lot of work, using less with less work)

Amazon CloudFront
something like Akamai offers (CDN, content distribution network) but for less money

Amazon SimpleDB
noSQL for key-value store. store huge lists of items consisting of attributes that are quickly searchable.
Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS)
MySQL as a Service (maas :P ) one of the best services of AWS at this moment.

AWS Elastic Beanstalk
infrastructure automation for java applications. works with tomcat, uses services like autoscaling. (turn-key solution, perfect for getting familiar with several AWS services.)
AWS CloudFormation
infrastructure orchestration. write recipes for different services you want to use, and how, and CloudFormation will do the rest.

Amazon Fulfillment Web Service (FWS)
have a shop? you can have Amazon manage your fulfillment. your suppliers ship to Amazon, and they ship to your customers.

Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS)
‘first in, first out’ (in nature) messaging. perfect for jobs that should be processed asynchronously, more or less in order of arrival. think of video rendering or thumbnail generation.
Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS)
publish/subscribe mechanism. you create topics interested parties can subscribe to. sending a message to a topic, sends the message to all subscribers. (like a mailing list, but for software systems.)
Amazon Simple Email Service (SES)
a service for sending mail. interesting is that you have to earn your quota with good behaviour. interesting way of minimizing spam.

Amazon CloudWatch
monitoring of many AWS assets, like instances (servers) and load balancers.

Amazon Route 53
DNS (really rocks)
Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC)
extend your private network with ‘some cloud’.
Elastic Load Balancing
distributing traffic over one or more instances (servers).

Amazon Flexible Payments Service (FPS)
would like to use it, not available for everyone in the world.
Amazon DevPay
same here.

Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3)
the most revolutionary service in AWS. unlimited storage.
Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS)
network disks for AWS. (attach a volume to an instance of your choice. you can’t share the disk between multiple instances.
AWS Import/Export
move large data in and out of S3

AWS Premium Support
supposed to help you out with problems for money.

Alexa Web Information Service
search, i thought.
Alexa Top Sites
don’t know.

Amazon Mechanical Turk
work by the task. you want to have 10,000 users visit your site and try to do something. put those tasks on mechanical turk (for $0.1 per task?) and any one can help you.

thanks, Mitch Garnaat for pointing out we missed:
Identity and Access Management (IAM)

which lets you provision users within your AWS account and grant them access to different services and resources.

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There’s “no reliable way to verify identity online” at the moment, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said, citing the rising tide of security threats including malware and identity theft that have grown increasingly prevalent over the last few years. “Passwords just won’t cut it here.”

A 55-page document (PDF) released by the White House today adds a few more details to the proposal, which still remains mostly hazy and inchoate.

It offers examples of what the White House views as an “identity ecosystem,” including obtaining a digital ID from an Internet service provider that could be used to view your personal health information, or obtaining an ID linked to your cell phone that would let you log into IRS.gov to view payments and file taxes. The idea is to have multiple identity providers that are part of the same system.

Intriguing. Scary.

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Hashify does not solve a problem, it poses a question: what becomes possible when one is able to store entire documents in URLs?

Document ↔ URL

Hashify is different from virtually every other site on the Web in that every URL contains the complete contents of the page.

The address bar updates with each keystroke as one types into the editor.

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When I switch to Android I’m going to record, using my Yeti, Susan making a text notification sound–like “jajing”, or, “dee-doo-doot”.

It’s going to be uber-clean quality, and I’m going to edit the hell out of it so it’s perfect.

Then when I get a text from her it’ll sound *almost* like a system sound, but it’ll be her pretty voice. ::

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urluri

There are many classic tech debates, and the question of what to formally call web addresses is one of the most nuanced. The way this normally manifests is someone asks for the “URL” to put into his or her browser, and someone perks up with,

Actually, that’s called a URI, not a URL…

The response to this correction can range from quietly thinking this person needs to get out more, to agreeing indifferently via shoulder shrug, to removing the safety clasp on a Katana. This page hopes to serve as a simple, one page summary for navigating the subtleties of this debate.

This is my latest study article on the difference between URLs and URIs.

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