Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

Wow. Channelling my bitter rage seems to get me lots of retweets. Just need to work out a way to monetize it now.

Year of Code advisor Emma Mulqueeny has left the building. What a shit show.

I usually don’t go in for drama but this is such an enormous pile of ineptitude on the part of the government, it’s actually kind of funny. If, y’know, kids educations weren’t on the line.

How many software developers would it take to change a lightbulb?

One person to go to the shop to buy a lightbulb.

Another person who goes and tries to buy a lightbulb but fails because the shop doesn’t accept Bitcoin. He pops on to Reddit to complain and in the process compares his situation to that of the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Another person to go on to JIRA and spend twenty minutes deciding whether it is a bug, a support question, a request or one of fifteen other categories that someone dreamt up as being necessary for “process reasons”.

An ops person to spend half a day setting up a virtual private light fitting environment so you can securely test your lightbulb fittings without having to be exposed to the evils of the Internet. Having set this up, he’ll forget to give you a password.

Another ops person who sets up a CI server to tell you whether your lightbulb is actually on. And some zany co-workers who decide to give you a lethal electric shock if you cause the CI to go red, because they’ve got a company culture to uphold. And you wouldn’t want to not be a culture fit.

A few managers standing around and looking at the Herculean efforts of their lightbulb fitting team and wishing they could go ten times faster even though that would require adding more hours to the day and extra limbs to their employees. They pass the time by producing Gantt charts and burndown charts that have almost no relation to reality.

137 to prepare reports for management on comparing the different types of lightbulbs and light fixtures and light switches. None of which will be read; management will instead just choose the lightbulb manufacturer that buys them lots of drinks and hookers.

1 person to poke around on Github for a lightbulb library.

1 person to package an old, broken version of the lightbulb library for Debian and Ubuntu and then complain that the fixed one isn’t “stable” enough.

20 person to put a slightly less broken version of the lightbulb library up on an Ubuntu PPA and then neglect to maintain it.

1 fucking rockstar to tell the guy looking on Github that they all suck and he’ll write a better one this evening when he’s dosed up on Red Bull.

Someone wearing Google Glass looking like a complete cock.

Someone in a far away land who looks at the lightbulb specification, doesn’t quite understand it and hops on to LightbulbOverflow and asks in all caps “CAN YOU SEND ME THE BLUBS BY EMAIL TO ?”. Management in San Francisco and London still think outsourcing to this company is a good thing because they are cheap.

Some consultants in suits saying that the lightbulb isn’t enterprise ready and needs to be made more modular and hook up to their Enterprise Service Bridge and Messaging Architecture and to communicate using 17 different SOAP and WS-* standards dreamed up by people with important job titles at BEA, Microsoft, Oracle and IBM, but which nobody has actually ever sat down and implemented without wanting to stab someone in the face so many times they don’t have a face left. Usually themselves.

A few more to argue which type of XML Schema vocabulary (XSD, RELAX NG, DTD, Schematron etc.) should be used, with one fucking genius deciding to blow up all the lightbulbs on the planet by launching a billion lightbulb DTD attack on the XML architecting team.

A few young hipsters who point at the XML Schema and SOAP people and tell them they are ludicrously outdated and need to get with building a RESTful HTTP API using JSON, but look blankly at you when you ask them what content negotiation is or the difference between safe and unsafe methods, and then produce you an API that is completely undocumented, changes every week and doesn’t actually conform to anything sensible about web architecture.

Some idealistic open data person to suggest that maybe they should try RDF. Fifty people to tell him he’s an idiot.

300 or so tossers on Hacker News bitching about how the lightbulb “doesn’t scale” because the bulb they’ve put in their bedside lamp isn’t able to double as a floodlight for a fucking soccer stadium.

A whole bevy of other tossers who decide they don’t like lightbulbs done in the traditional way so write a fucking library called lightbulb.js because “everything that can be written in JavaScript will be”. The lightbulbs depend on seventeen JavaScript libraries and silently fail if you fit them in an old house.

Some arsehole on Lambda the Ultimate who points to an unreadable PDF filled with mathematical equations proving that unless you know Haskell you aren’t a good person and should just go die in a fire rather than bother fitting lightbulbs.

Some other arsehole in the comments on Lambda the Ultimate asking whether it’s normal that to turn the light switch on, he needs to do a Ph.D first.

Twenty odd bloggers writing naff articles about how the LightbulbStateMutator monad isn’t that complicated and analogising it to pizzas, roadkill, leprosy, Cher’s new album and some even more complicated abstract concepts.

An important looking person in a dark black suit who turns up, insists that you install a box next to the lightbulb and tells you that you aren’t allowed to tell anyone about this because of national security but that if anyone asks, it’s only metadata.

One meek university professor suggesting that maybe if you are going to change a lightbulb, you should get some kind of qualification first, agree to some kind of lightbulb fitters’ code of conduct and ethics, and take out some professional indemnity insurance so that if your incompetence leads to people dying, people don’t point to lightbulb fitters and say they are all cowboys and charlatans and morons.

A few thousand people telling meek university professor to go fuck himself.

A young lady asking very politely if she can have a turn fitting lightbulbs once in a while without being cat-called, jeered at or threatened with rape.

A couple dozen nice guys telling her to get back in the kitchen, make them a sandwich and stop being a radical feminist misandrist or they’ll rape the fucking crap out of her while then explaining that they don’t understand why anyone would think that women face any issue in the lightbulb business.

A couple of venture capitalists who are wearing suit jackets but not ties so they can look modern saying things like “these lightbulbs seem like a neat hack but how exactly do you plan to monetize this?” and “what’s your exit strategy?”

A couple of professional lightbulb journalists arguing about who got the scoop on the fitting of the new lightbulb and sending catty tweets back and forth about how they suck. And another professional lightbulb metajournalist to document said catty Twitter fight for his lightbulb industry gossip blog.

Finally, one person to fit the lightbulb.

Now available in Japanese.

Sky News just illustrated a story happening in Belfast with a zoomy map to show the viewer where Belfast is. Because we are particularly ignorant primary school children apparently.

At the gym, we seem to have Midsomer Murders repeats on the TV. There is nothing quite like seeing nice middle-class countryside people being brutally murdered to motivate one on the exercise bike or treadmill. I bet it was the gardener she was having it off with.

Free business idea: pick-up artist ebook that you pay for exclusively with Bitcoin. If you do it, send me some of your magical internet dollars if it works out. I have neither the time nor necessary attributes to pursue such a venture but can see it being very popular with the Reddit crowd.

I’ve just ordered 20 copies of The Mythical Man Month. According to management logic, I should be able to read it twenty times faster this way.

You know you've been reading too much Reddit when...

…you discover the existence of the Tulpa community. Tulpa is a spiritual idea taken from Tibetan Buddhism, but then the Internet discovered it.

According to r/tulpas:

A tulpa could be described as an imaginary friend that has its own thoughts and emotions, and that you can interact with. You could think of them as hallucinations that can think and act on their own.

Apparently, what you do is you spend three months trying to convince yourself that an imaginary friend exists and then you start hallucinating them. And then you can hang out with them. Pretty cool, huh.

Why would you do this? Well, according to

Creators tend to have incredibly close and personal relationships with their tulpas. And why wouldn’t they? A bond with one’s tulpa is often extremely strong, because they can know you intimately, understand you, and generally like and trust you almost implicitly and all this is due to them being in the brain with you. That allows them to understand you like no other person, because they can know (if you decide to open up to them) all your memories, your thoughts, reasons for doing things in the past that others wouldn’t understand.

Can’t afford therapy? Build your own hallucinatory psychotherapist/best friend/girlfriend.

Yeah. Girlfriend.

This is Reddit we’re talking about after all.

Someone asked the Tulpa crew what they thought about people having sex with their tulpas, to which a tulpa dude responds:

As long as both parties are fine with the act, it’s fine. Disappointment is relative, but in the long run, a host and a tulpa will ultimately do what they want to do. Personally, as I’ve already said, as long as both parties are… well, satisfied, no matter what form they choose, wither they engage in fornication or not… there’s no real reason to be disappointed in them.

Which is fair enough, I guess.

As with everything off the beaten path, someone went and told the bronies about it. And there’s a MLP Tulpa Tumblr because that’s a thing now. I’m waiting for libertarians to start talking to their imaginary friend in the form of a Ron Paul/My Little Pony hybrid.

Of course, I don’t need a tulpa. I have a wide variety of friends including gin, rum, vodka and wine who know and understand me more intimately than my own hallucinations would.

Reddit user and Bitcoin fanatic shoots his iPhone 4S with a rifle because he’s butthurt that Apple removed the Blockchain app from the App Store.

The only thing that would make this more perfect is if he also spent some time bitching about how some girl friendzoned him and he’s going to attend a men’s rights protest.

Year of Code seems to not have many programmers

So, I was looking at the Year of Code website and made a rather startling discovery. For an organisation that’s dedicated to bringing programming to schools, they seem to have something of a shortfall of programmers.

  • Lottie Dexter - formerly of Iain Duncan Smith’s Center for Social Justice and founded the Million Jobs Campaign. No technical background.
  • Rohan Silva - former Number 10 policy adviser, entrepreneur, “architect of London’s Tech City”, has done a lot of policy wonk stuff. Can’t see any technical background.
  • Saul Klein - entrepreneur and venture capitalist, partner at Index. Not seeing any coding background.
  • James Bilefield - entrepreneur and businessman with a background in banking. Has been involved in a lot of important tech industry work including roles at Yahoo! and Skype, and advisory work at GDS, but not seeing a coding background.
  • Nina Bhatia - British Gas, formerly at McKinsey. Works on ‘Connected Homes’ which is technical but comes from a business background.
  • Suli Breaks - poet/spoken word performer with a law degree. Uses social media to build an audience. Both his website and his Tumblr caused Safari to freeze up, which is a bit irritating.
  • Emily Brooke - creator of the crowdfunded Blaze LED bike light. Has a product design and science background and is involved with some entrepreneurial groups.
  • Cristiana Camisotti - cofounder of Silicon Milkroundabout, the Old Street tech jobs fair. Also has a product design background.
  • Tanya Cordrey - chief digital offer at The Grauniad, marketing and dotcom business background.
  • Dan Crow - CTO at Songkick. Has a Ph.D in Artificial Intelligence, worked at Apple on Hypercard and QuickTime, then moved on to a variety of startups as well as Google. ACTUALLY A TECHIE!
  • Jason Goodman - CEO of Albion London, a marketing agency with a tech focus. Has an advertising and digital background.
  • Jermaine Hagan - founder of Revision, a mobile app.
  • Julia Fowler - fashion designer turned startup co-founder.
  • Alex Klein - co-founder of Kano (which is really a pretty awesome project). Background in journalism.
  • Divina Knowles - Mind Candy executive with a business background.
  • Martha Lane Fox - founder, extensive business and philanthropy background.
  • Emma Mulqueeny - has run the Rewired State and Young Rewired State hack days, and been involved with the Guardian Developer Network. She knows a lot about data and she speaks geek well enough to be a great pick but doesn’t have a technical background.
  • Alicia Navarro - co-founder of Skimlinks, an affiliate marketing startup. Has a degree in IT. ACTUALLY A TECHIE!
  • Kathryn Parsons - runs DECODED* which teaches web skills. Has an ad agency background at Ogilvy. Involved in Tech City.
  • Zach Sims - co-founder of Codecademy. Startup bizdev background and has worked in VC.
  • Reshma Sohoni - partner and former CEO at SeedCamp, startup incubator. Business experience at Vodafone and in investment banking.
  • James Whelton - runs CoderDojo, a startup doing coding training. Self-taught programmer. ACTUALLY A TECHIE!
  • Michelle You - Co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Songkick. English degree from Cambridge and a media/publishing background.

Now, I must note that not having a technical background doesn’t automatically make you unqualified, and many of these people will have useful things to bring to the table. But it does seem to be a bit strange for an organisation whose purpose is to bring coding to schoolchildren to not have more coders on board.

If the government set up a body to try and boost science education and most of the people on it weren’t actually scientists or science educators, that’d be a bit strange. If it set up a body to deal with some medical matter and it had only a small number of doctors advising them, that’d be a bit odd. Well, to me, it seems a bit odd that there are so few people who actually build software professionally on the executive and advisory board of Year of Code.

Year of Code redux

The Government have launched their Year of Code initiative. The Next Web and The Guardian have the story.

Basically, the government have allocated £500,000 in matching funds which computing organisations can use to train teachers on coding. The proof will be in who steps up to the plate to deliver that. The British Computer Society, perhaps. Universities, maybe. Maybe some big tech companies like Google or Microsoft might. We’ll wait and see.

It’s sort of off to a bad start though because Lottie Dexter, the director of Year of Code, went on Newsnight and fumbled through an interview wherein she revealed that despite being put in charge of the initiative to teach children to code, she doesn’t know how to code. She also did a fairly crap job at explaining to Paxman why programming matters. And there’s plenty of things she could choose from: programming helps teach basic logic and mathematics in a fun and accessible way. Building software can be a form of self-expression and a way to shape the world around you. And, of course, it’s quite a useful skill to have for employment and that basically everything has software in it—not just phones, tablets and PCs but also cars, trains, planes, televisions, domestic appliances, schools and pretty much every organisation and business in the developed world will run on software of some kind.

The problem with Dexter’s performance isn’t that she doesn’t know how to code. She can learn that, I hope. It’s that in that interview she doesn’t know how to code and did a pretty ropey job of explaining why teaching kids to code matters. You can teach technical skills, you can teach presentational/marketing skills, but not having either seems a bit of a problem if you are in charge of an organisation like this.

Adrian Short has an interesting post about the Year of Code’s neoliberal agenda. I don’t buy the idea that it’s all down to a neoliberal agenda. I’ve got friends working in other government IT fields where they are working on a genuinely good thing but it has to be sexed up with economy-speak to make it palatable to politicians. Look at contemporary defences of the teaching of arts and humanities subjects in universities. The people in the field feel a bit dirty having to justify history or philosophy or literary studies on the basis that it turns out employable skilled graduates who can tuck neatly into a large bank, and would much rather defend their funding on the basis of the intrinsic value of the subjects, as well as the value of having an educated and informed polis in a democratic society. But when dealing with barbarians, appeals to Platonic ideals won’t win the day. If your interest is in keeping said subjects running in a university, sometimes barbaric pragmatism is necessary.

In terms of democratic reasons people ought to know more about technology and about coding, there’s plenty. In a world of mass surveillance and of large corporate ownership of computer systems, there are choices to be made. A technically educated populace can defend themselves both individually and collectively from the power of governments and large corporations who seek to control their lives. A more technically educated society would probably better understand the issues around electronic surveillance, encryption, security and anti-terror laws, Internet censorship, copyright and IP issues etc. just as a more scientifically literate society would hopefully be able to more fully understand issues like climate change and energy, public health, sex education, medical research, drugs etc. and be better able to see through the lies and misdirections of weasel politicians and scaremongering news editors who lie and misdirect people with pseudoscience and agenda-driven bullshit.

Teach kids to code and they may end up being corporate drones working for banks, or they may end up writing a new tool making it so normal people can GCHQ-proof their email. Only time will tell how badly the government will fuck this up.

Panti Bliss may be new favourite drag queen for this amazing speech.

The background is this: Rory O’Neill—Panti’s male alter-ego—described a number of opponents of gay marriage as being homophobic. They got their, err, panties in a bunch and threatened legal action against the state broadcaster, RTE, who promptly wet their panties at the legal threat and paid €85,000 to said homophobes. Watch all of Panti’s speech, it’s amazing.

And the key point of it is even more important: like Panti Bliss, I’m fucking tired of being told by straight people what is and isn’t homophobic and what I should or should not be offended by. Until you’ve had drunken louts shouting abuse at you, shut the fuck up about what homophobia is.

Sochi looks like a complete shit-show. I’m sure if Putin asked very nicely the Queer Eye boys would be happy to fix it.

The hotels in Sochi are pretty fucked up. It’s almost as if all of Russia’s interior designers decided to boycott the Olympics to make a point or something…