Don’t be lazy

As I listened back to a recent podcast, just to make sure I hadn’t said anything horrendous while speaking off-the-cuff, I noticed something interesting: three of the four people I referenced in the podcast were women. When thinking of people who I admire or look to for advice, when reaching for readily available examples to illustrate whatever point I was talking about, I came up with women most of the time.

Thing is, this would absolutely not have been the case maybe three years ago. Certainly not over five years ago. So what’s different and what have I changed over the past few years? Well chaps, here’s the magical secret technique that will help you find diverse mentors and authority figures in just one easy step: put some fucking effort in. Don’t be lazy.

Our first Codemania in 2012 had one woman speaker out of 12 total. 2014 had three. Last year we had 7/12 women. We’ll need to run that ratio (or better) for several years to make up for our shitty approach in the early years. We also need to do a much better job of representing Maori and Pacific technologists. I need to put in more effort there for sure.

It’s trivially easy to run a conference full of dudes: you just have ask for people to speak and white dudes will come tumbling out of the woodwork, chests puffed out, legs manspread, ready to bloviate about anything you could require. The same goes for seeking advice & mentorship, or looking for technical leadership: men will be readily available.

It takes effort to look past that wall of dudes and make sure that you’re at least getting representation from the 20-25% of women in the tech workforce. It takes effort to go above and beyond that to ensure that conferences and awards ceremonies are places that women and minorities can see themselves as speakers, leaders, and luminaries. Because that’s one of the first steps: visibility. We forget as white dudes that we can see plenty of ourselves in those positions, so it’s easy to imagine ourselves there. Imagine if you never saw someone who looked like you speaking at a conference.

So yeah, it’s not hard, it just takes some effort, so when I see manels and dudeferences, I feel utterly disappointed in the laziness of the organisers. Stop letting yourself down. Stop letting the dudewave roll over you. Put your head above the dross and take a look around.

  • Follow women and minority technologists on Twitter. Shit I’m not even going to share the lists because you can just Google and find hundreds.
  • Follow the people *they* follow.
  • Run open CFPs and at the very least use a Rooney Rule to make sure your selection is diverse, even if you can’t get over your own biased “meritocracy” hangup.

But most simply: don’t settle. Don’t say “well we tried emailing three women and they were all busy on the day so ¯_(?)_/¯”. Go back and put some more effort in. You wouldn’t finish half of an if-statement and just throw your hands up because “the else clause is too hard”.

I’m comfortable saying all this because I was that guy. I’ve been that lazy dude. Don’t be like me. Please.

Hard Problems

Apparently, we need to allow controversial opinions in order to bring about innovation:

This is uncomfortable, but it’s possible we have to allow people to say disparaging things about gay people if we want them to be able to say novel things about physics.

I presume this is a deliberately inflammatory opinion in order to make more impact. Elsewhere, the article attempts to be more nuanced, including some factual observation:

More recently, I’ve seen credible people working on ideas like pharmaceuticals for intelligence augmentation, genetic engineering, and radical life extension leave San Francisco because they found the reaction to their work to be so toxic. “If people live a lot longer it will be disastrous for the environment, so people working on this must be really unethical” was a memorable quote I heard this year.

Conflating intelligence augmentation with homophobia as “controversial ideas” is utterly irresponsible. It’s identical to Trump saying “there were bad people on both sides”. Racist and homophobic members of the tech industry will read this as validation of their “controversial” views.

Ideas like intelligence augmentation aren’t controversial. What is controversial is the problems they create: these are hard problems to solve, and we all know tech startups avoid hard problems like the plague. Uber would rather break laws and pay less than minimum wage than genuinely solve the problems we need to solve to implement the gig economy.

The travelling salesman or even P=NP are easy problems by comparison. We can reason about them in isolation and even attempt to code up solutions. But if you want to solve radical life extension, you need to also solve sustainability and inclusivity. The reason people baulk when the tech industry brings up these “radical ideas” is because they know the hard problems are being glossed over.

In his clarification article, Sam points out:

It was literally heretical, not so long ago, to say that it was ok to be gay—the Bible has a different viewpoint. In a society where we don’t allow challenges to the orthodoxy, gay rights would not have happened.

Implying that Uber is akin to Galileo, boldly putting out controversial ideas against the weight of public opinion is a very long bow to draw. Uber are the church, charging forward with blind faith that they are right, leaving problems behind for their lessers (public servants, lower socio-economic groups, government legislators) to clean up.

What if it’s not intelligence augmentation that is heretical? ? What if the heretics are the ones challenging you to think about the impact on race and socio-economics before you launch into your intelligence augmentation startup?

What I meant is simply that we need, as a society, to tolerate controversial ideas. The biggest new scientific ideas, and the most important changes to society, both start as extremely unpopular ideas.

I couldn’t agree more. We should tolerate controversial ideas, for example the idea that tech startups shouldn’t get a free pass to “innovate” at the cost of others.

Reasons to use social media

I’ve been away from social media* for a month now, and I’m wondering whether to go back. I’m not convinced I should. I just don’t know whether I find it valuable enough to compensate for the downsides that it causes for me.

Here’s what I find valuable about social media:

  1. It helps me keep connected with friends.
    I actually met some of my closest friends (hi @dylanreeve, @parsley72) thanks to social media, and keep up with others using it. It’s not that I can’t catch up with people without using Twitter, but I do miss that ambient intimacy. I’m not convinced it’s as good as real intimacy though.
  2. It’s (currently) the best way to advertise your company and connect with your industry.
    With Codemania looming, I’m wondering if the lack of last-minute ticket sales is partially because I’m not spamming away on Facebook and Twitter. Possibly? Probably? Also we have some open roles at Vend that I’d normally tweet about to spread the word.

Continue reading “Reasons to use social media”

Building a Multisensor for Home Assistant – Part 2

In part 1, I was building a light sensor, but now it’s morphed into a multi-sensor

Running against my recent terrible Aliexpress streak, the remaining bits actually arrived. Here’s the items I’ve used to build a great little multi-sensor that pumps data into Home Assistant:

Total: US$8.38
Item Details Price
Main Board Wemos Mini D1 (probably a clone). ESP8266 chip with integrated Wifi US$3.30
Luminosity Sensor TLS2561 I²C module US$1.11
Temp/Pressure/Humidity Sensor Bosch BME280 I²C module US$3.97

It’s a little surprising that the triple sensor is the most expensive part of the whole thing, but Bosch make nice electronics, and the BME280 is the current pick of the crop for these sorts of sensors. Probably total overkill for my use case. If you don’t care about air pressure and you wanted to save a dollar* you could get away with a DHT22.

*I bet you complain about $1.99 iPhone games too.

Continue reading “Building a Multisensor for Home Assistant – Part 2”

Building a Light Level Sensor for Home Assistant – Part 1

(This turned from a light sensor into a light/temperature/humidity/pressure multi-sensor in Part 2. By Part 3 it might be sentient.)

I’ve been mucking about with Home Assistant for several months now after buying wifi lights (and shamefully haven’t been blogging about it). Home Assistant is a hugely configurable, Python-based home automation server. I recommend checking it out.

The first thing I set up is automation of our main lights. They turn off when we go out, and turn on when we arrive home. This works fine, but I’d also like the lights to turn off when not required during the day. Home Assistant natively knows about sunrise & sunset, so the obvious thing is to turn the lights off maybe 45 minutes after sunrise. This is fine on sunny days, but on rainy day the lights end up turning off while it’s still quite dim inside.

Continue reading “Building a Light Level Sensor for Home Assistant – Part 1”