about that Google “women in tech” screed

I really didn’t want to post about this, because it’s the year 20*checks watch*17 and we are apparently still having this argument. But I’m a guy in tech and apparently his views are wider-spread than I would like to believe, so here goes:

If you haven’t read the essay, I’d recommend doing so. (I debated about whether to even read it, but eventually decided it was better to be engaged) Here it is in full – note that it was posted to an internal Google forum that is apparently available for all employees to read.

It’s a little hard to respond to because there’s a whole tangled mess of points he makes, a few of which are reasonable. I do think conservatives can be alienated in tech circles, and if you think taxes should be lower, then you shouldn’t feel afraid to express that opinion at work. (although why are you talking about politics at work?) But, there’s some pretty bad stuff:
He claims to value diversity, but doesn’t like programs that work to increase diversity – for example:

Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts.

I…don’t even know what to say to this. Which is weird because later he says

I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority.

(emphasis added) So…which is it?
Maybe there are fewer women in tech for non-sexist reasons? for example:

We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.

I think the best response to this is this chart of the gender representation in Computer Science over time:

Women are biologically different than men! This is true to a very small extent. David just finished a whole book (Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences) showing how most of the studies that purport to show differences are way overblown. Even the guy whose research the author cited says he misinterpreted that research.

Ugh, I’m tired. Read this response by an evolutionary biologist and call it a day.

our first vacation with Vanessa!

We’ve been on car trips with her before, but nothing over 3 hours. This time we flew to Virginia Beach to meet my parents and sisters at a beach house we rented! Some thoughts/lessons:

– Having a stroller in the airport is amazing. My back muscles are not up to carrying her around everywhere, but with a stroller we can go on walks, etc. We were able to gate check it on all 4 flights so we’d pick it up right when the plane landed. (although one time one of the wheels was out of alignment :-/)

– Vanessa was a real trooper. She even slept on two flights that were around her nap time.

– We bought her a seat, and on the recommendation of Baby Bargains we bought a Cosco Scenera Next for the flights (and rental car). It’s very cheap, lightweight, and pretty easy to install. Kind of annoying to have to carry it around the airport, though…

– Feeding her in a carseat in the car/on the plane worked pretty well.

– We tried to keep her on Central time throughout the trip – goes to bed later, sleeps later, what’s not to like? This kinda worked until it didn’t.

– She had her first trip to the beach! She was pretty hesitant the first day, but the second day she liked it, although more because she wanted to eat sand. (she ate a lot of sand; I am a terrible father!) But she did like sitting with me in the waves…and playing with mud…and trying to eat it.

– Family bathrooms in the airport are the best thing ever for changing diapers.

– Unfortunately, on the way back I booked us a 3 hour layover in Dallas. I’m not sure what I was thinking – more time in the airport is nice to not be rushed, but that is toooooooo long! Vanessa wouldn’t go to sleep because there were too many exciting things happening. (i.e. people walking around)

– But airports are a great place to have people comment on how cute your baby is!

– Sorry to people on that last flight – she cries a lot when she’s going to sleep, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.

– Relatedly, is 11 months too early to start the whole “inside voice” concept? Because it does not seem to be working.

– We had three carryons (backpacks for us, diaper bag for her), three suitcases, and a stroller (with her in it) and carseat to carry. So David and I carried four things a piece, which was doable but not pleasant. (once we checked the suitcases things got a bit better)

– TSA PreCheck was so helpful – it meant we didn’t have to take the formula out of our bags. Although the bags then had to be swabbed, which took a few minutes. (again, having a cute baby reduces friction here!) Oddly enough, on the way there one of us had to be patted down, but they let us choose which one. (it was a very thorough patdown…)

Unsolved!: The History and Mystery of the World’s Greatest Ciphers from Ancient Egypt to Online Secret Societies review

Unsolved!: The History and Mystery of the World's Greatest Ciphers from Ancient Egypt to Online Secret SocietiesUnsolved!: The History and Mystery of the World’s Greatest Ciphers from Ancient Egypt to Online Secret Societies by Craig Bauer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

David got this book somewhat randomly at Barnes and Noble and, honestly, I didn’t have very high hopes. But the author actually worked at the National Cryptologic Museum, so he definitely knows his stuff!

If anything the book is a bit too detailed, but if you’re into reading about, say, the whole history of the Voynich manuscript it’s very good. Another minor irritation is that, well, most of the ciphers he talks about are unsolved! That can get kind of unsatisfying.

But he does a good job of listing what we do know, using various statistical techniques. Another nicety is that he actually goes through the exercise of decoding some simple ciphers, which is much more instructive than the usual “well, just look at the letter frequencies, and voila!”

One of the crazier things he talks about is that there are a lot of ancient writings that don’t make any sense – we know what language they’re using, but the words don’t make any sense. Apparently people who study such things used to think “well, this doesn’t make any sense, so obviously it’s gibberish – maybe illiterate sellers of goods would write stuff that looked like words to fool illiterate buyers?” Which is such a weird first option, as opposed to “maybe these things are in codes that we don’t understand”. Hey scholars – just because you don’t know what it is doesn’t mean it’s gibberish, ya bums!

Anyway, it’s a good book.

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monday linked list: spending free time better, Uber: still terrible, saving money on unnecessary 911 calls

You’re doing your weekend wrong – yeah, it can be surprisingly hard to do “free time” right, especially when it’s more limited (because, say, you have a baby) and if you’re tired. But I get a lot of fulfillment out of working on side project and feeling like I accomplished something.

How Uber’s Hard-Charging Corporate Culture Left Employees Drained – I feel like I’m almost done with posting “Uber is terrible” articles because there are so many, but…man.

A City’s Solution to Too Many 911 Calls – it saves everyone money! Clever idea.

These 2 Medicaid provisions prevent medical debts from ruining people’s lives – huh, I had never heard of these. Neat! (thanks David!)

The Company Behind Many Surprise Emergency Room Bills – grrrrrrrr

Using Hilbert Curves to 100% Zelda – this is cool and also incredibly nerdy 🙂

For some reason YouTube is full of remakes of Star Trek credits – Hah! I like the Friends one the most.

How ISIS nearly stumbled on the ingredients for a
‘dirty bomb’
– umm, terrifying!

Can we get to 350 ppm? Yes we can – an optimistic take on climate change.

Being rich wrecks your soul. We used to know that. – interesting look at how our culture has changed its mind about this.

10,000 Hours With Claude Shannon: How A Genius Thinks, Works, and Lives – indeed, one of those geniuses that many people haven’t heard of. Sounds like he led an interesting life!

The Myth of Drug Expiration Dates – interesting that the government tests drugs in their stockpile of medicine, and many last for years past their expiration date.

The Way: How a Salado couple’s tragic story inspired a chart-topping song – wow, Fastball’s “The Way” is based on a true story!

The 2 most popular critiques of basic income are both wrong – interesting! (thanks David!)

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? review

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White HouseWho Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting book – a mix of “what it’s like to work in the White House” (the author was Obama’s deputy chief of staff!) and “how I got to the White House”, mixed in with some personal anecdotes.

Reading books like this can trigger a tiny existential crisis in me – the author had a huge impact on the Obama presidency and knows a lot of the more powerful people in DC. (her wedding was officiated by Justice Kagan, for goodness sake!) Did I miss my chance to have such a big impact on the world? (I’m not thinking of any opportunity in particular, here)

But I like to think that I’m making a difference in the job I’m in, even though it might be indirect and barely visible. This is one reason I really enjoy seeing what scientists and engineers are able to accomplish with our software at events like NIWeek.

To be fair, it sounds like it was hard for the author after leaving the White House for similar reasons. It’s hard to go to an “ordinary job” after the role that she played in Obama’s campaign and presidency!

This book also makes me sad because of the contrast between President Obama, who sounds like a really stand-up guy (not that this is new information!), and President Trump.

Anyway, the book was good and a pretty quick read. Recommended!

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