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

Mobile deep links are kind of a joke. They’re like real links on the web if they’d been designed by a committee at a big company. Lack of proper links is why I find “apps” so profoundly dull compared to the web. And the more the web tries to ape apps, the less I care for the web.

‘Deep links’ is CD-ROMs being able to link to one another. If that’s the future, the future is rather boring.

The one issue I have heard the least about during the UK general election campaign: climate change.

I mean, it’s not like an oncoming global ecological catastrophe is a major issue or anything. Far better to argue about bacon sandwiches and demonise some HIV positive immigrants and other equally stupid bullshit.

Electron is the underlying framework from Atom, a way to build desktop apps using web technologies and Node.js. Which is nifty, but just one thing: if Atom is any indication, the resulting applications are likely to be rather bloated.

A while back, I downloaded Atom and the .app is about 3x the size of MacVim and uses about 10x the memory of Vim. And it isn’t Vim.

Electron looks nifty, even if I personally oppose the “JavaScript all the things” movement as rather ridiculous, but beware overly bloated executables.

Electronic voting machines in practice: Windows XP that hasn’t been patched since 2004, easily crackable WEP encryption, votes stored in unencrypted Microsoft Access file, hardcoded easily crackable passwords, and no firewalls. Despite this, it passed the accreditation process to be used in elections in three states.

I’m not sure which is worse: that someone would have the chutzpah to sell such snake oil as a technical solution or that the officials in charge of making such decisions didn’t laugh them out of the room.

E-voting machines are a costly and insecure replacement for a perfectly good, well-tested technology: a pencil.

Analytics URLs: who thought they were a good idea?

You know all that utm_source, utm_campaign, utm_content crap on the end of URLs?

Am I the only person who thought “won’t your analytics be fucked up if you share a URL with all that cruft on the end to someone who didn’t find it that way?”

Good thing people don’t make big and important spending decisions on the basis of not-at-all-bullshit web analytics data…

Large groups of poorly-shepherded foreign exchange students are basically IRL Denial of Service attacks that can be launched at cities and the shops and businesses contained therein.

I rediscovered James Clark’s excellent anti-XML Schema email yesterday. It’s a thing of beauty. There really is no justification for XML Schema.

If you want to smash your head against the desk repeatedly and contemplate genocide, XML Schema is the format for you. If you want to validate an XML file against a schema, try RELAX NG instead.

And if you are wondering why I need to validate XML files and don’t just use JSON instead… there are reasons.

Despite constant claims of meritocracy, UK hiring practices still rife with subtle homophobia

A new study out of Anglia Ruskin University:

In this article, I report on a field experiment (144 job-seekers and their correspondence with 5549 firms) that tested the extent to which sexual orientation affects the labour market outcomes of gay and lesbian job-seekers in the United Kingdom. Their minority sexual orientations, as indicated by job-seekers’ participation in gay and lesbian university student unions, negatively affected their workplace prospects. The probability of gay or lesbian applicants receiving an invitation for an interview was 5.0 percent (5.1%) lower than that for heterosexual male or female applicants. In addition, gay men and lesbians received invitations for interviews by firms that paid salaries that were 1.9 percent (1.2%) lower than those paid by firms that invited heterosexual male or female applicants for interviews. In addition, in male- or female-dominated occupations, gay men and lesbians received fewer invitations for interviews than their non-gay and non-lesbian counterparts. Furthermore, gay men and lesbians also received fewer invitations to interview for positions in which masculine or feminine personality traits were highlighted in job applications and at firms that did not provide written equal opportunity standards, suggesting that the level of discrimination depends partly on the personality traits that employers seek and on organization-level hiring policies.

This mirrors previous findings in Greece, the United States, Canada and Sweden. The international evidence is clear: if your status as a gay or lesbian person is clearly evident from items in your CV, you are less likely to be hired and you are likely to make less money. There is no doubt in my mind that homophobia is still a systemic component of hiring practices—the evidence is clear. This is not a reason to hide away—the cost to my well-being of remaining in the closet was significantly more than the cost of discriminatory practices in employment is likely to be, but that kind of thing is a subjective evaluation every gay person has to make for themselves.

Studies like this, and the equivalent studies done on responses to CVs with names connoting specific racial groups should destroy any dubious claim that the business world is purely “meritocratic”, just as the drastic rise in women playing in symphony orchestras following the introduction of blind auditions did.

The disappointing thing about this study is that the first “CV test” was done back in 1981 in Toronto and found a 10% difference in response rate to applicants with gay-related experience on their CV. In 2015, in this study conducted here in the United Kingdom, the country with the best legal situation in the whole of Europe for LGBT people with regards to equal rights, that figure is still 5%. It’s great that the figure has halved. But it’s depressing that it hasn’t dropped further and faster especially given how well other measures of equality have shifted. Despite the claims that with the passage of same-sex marriage there are no more fights left (which was always bullshit), there is still clearly documented evidence of bias in hiring practices.

Is Parliament deliberative?

Caroline Lucas MP has an interesting piece in the Independent about what it is like becoming an MP for the first time, and the things you learn.

Of particular interest:

One of the most shocking things to me was the discovery that most MPs have no idea what they’re voting on, when the division bell rings. And it suits the whips to keep it that way. The fact that my modest proposal – that Members should be required to include brief explanatory statements alongside their amendments – was met with such hostility by the Party hierarchies is indicative of the threat posed to Party discipline by MPs actually thinking for themselves.

Another shock was to see how the powers of parliamentary scrutiny are so poorly exercised. Membership of the ad hoc ‘bill committees’ set up to go through draft legislation line by line is one of the best opportunities to have direct influence over future laws. That’s why the whips generally try to keep people with too much expertise or independence of mind off these committees. Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP for Totnes and a former GP, tells of her enthusiasm to sit on the Health and Social Care bill committee. Instead, the whips told her to sit on a committee examining double taxation in the Cayman Islands. When she protested that she knew nothing of the subject, the whips replied that was all to the good: all they wanted her to do was to vote the right way at the right time.

I’ll note that this was already known by anyone who has watched a few Parliamentary debates, but seeing an MP write it all down is profoundly angering. It leaves me thinking of the last three lines from Dover Beach:

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The main thing that the quotes from Lucas demonstrate is precisely how far the House of Commons is from the ideal of deliberative democracy. Parliamentary debates are far from what any thinking person should think of as a good or useful debate: it does not adequately allow for rebuttal of factual points made, simply a queue of people lodging their grievances. The time limits imposed on debates prevent Parliament from properly scrutinising proposed amendments.

The problem that I currently have is that the bodies that best represent the deliberative model of democracy in Britain are precisely those that aren’t democratically elected: specifically, the House of Lords and the Supreme Court. And that’s depressing too: the House of Lords is an extremely flawed institution—the political appointment process (which can be helped along with money), for a start—and the Supreme Court can’t exactly decide matters of public importance beyond those where interpretation of the law is concerned.

I have no great solutions to offer, just a feeling of disappointment and melancholy: I can’t see any way of fixing the process. Our voting system is fucked. Our Parliament is both unrepresentative and fails to be a suitable deliberative body. (And don’t get me started on how crap the media is at the same job.) I can only offer an ice-cold bath of cynicism: this system sucks, and there’s no real way to reform it. Our political system shall remain mired in mediocrity and stupidity for the foreseeable future. And it probably won’t change: even the most mild attempts at reforming, say, the voting system (the AV referendum) or the House of Lords have fallen flat on their arse, even though the failure to create a properly deliberative political system is precisely why we can’t solve the big problems.