The Trouble with Multiculturalism

I came across this article today, and I’m told that the author comes across as well-spoken, succinct, and dispassionate.

To use his words, his “intellectual myopia is striking.” Other than mentioning Chinese cuisine, his perspective only covers two cultures, “the West” and “Muslim.” And his fear is that if we Westerners participate in any celebration of other cultures that include Muslim, that we’ll basically turn into Saudi Arabia and take drivers licenses away from women. And he associates Muslim culture with 9/11 attacks and paints that as part of a larger concerted attack on our freedom.

It’s not dispassionate. It’s fear-mongering.

This honestly angers me. There are attacks on freedom in our country. Warrant-less wiretapping, indefinite detention, literal *imprisonment* of more of our citizens than any other country, religiously-motivated pseudoscience taught in schools…and not one bit of it came from embracing anything other than the worst elements of our own culture.

But then, a bit farther down in my news feed, I came to this, and my faith in humanity got a little boost:

Joyful child and camel

Simple genius doesn’t come from playing mental chess

My friend Stephen Yoder posted the following on FaceBook today:

This morning I made my son laugh while he accompanied me on my morning commute. My elder boy asked (in the thick of traffic–i had no time for a planned answer) “dad, what do you think about gays and lesbians?” I said, quickly, “good people, son. They just use their privates differently than I do.”

I am utterly unsurprised by his opinion. I am, however, in awe of the brilliant simplicity with which he expressed it. I think most of us are too aware of the controversy not to struggle over how to craft the answer that is most likely to impress upon our children what we believe on this important subject. He eschewed this mental chess playing and thus rendered the best answer. I love him for it.

Can we all share this, retweet it, like it, give it a +1, repeat it to our children, shout it in the streets, write it in the sky, affix it to carrier pigeons, insert it into ocean-going bottles, and write it in giant letters of fire on a planet at the end of the universe?

…but we don’t understand tides

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how we live in the future. And I commented, as an aside, that in light of the truly amazing degree to which we have been able to figure out the universe, it boggles the mind that there are people who are apparently impervious to that understanding. Worse, they base their whole belief systems on that ignorance.

Case in point:

  1. Transit of Venus photographed by Solar Dynamics ObservatoryThings like this truly amazing video appear, not on some obscure scientific website, but on Time’s Newsfeed.
  2. Bill O’Reilly recently said  that we haven’t figured out what causes the tide to go in and out with great regularity.

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Facebook is only free because *you’re* the product!!

Perhaps you’ve heard that before. Perhaps you’ve seen this (hilarious) image:

Two pigs discussing why it's free to live in the barn.

Author unknown

But OH MY GOD relax! All that’s really being sold is a marketing profile of you. Never before in history have you ever been given so much in return for such information. Yes, before, it was obvious, when you filled out an entry form to win the beautiful car parked behind velvet ropes at the mall, that you were exchanging your address and phone number for a 1 in a million chance of winning the car. Now it’s not so obvious, but it’s the same thing and the service that Facebook provides is nothing short of amazing. Much better than a 0.0001% chance of winning a car.

So, yes, Facebook is free for perfectly capitalist reasons. It’s ok. Really.

All the other complaints in this article about how FB threatens to Zuck up the human race? They’re legit, but singling out Facebook is overreaching. These problems are the inevitable outgrowth of our increasingly connected technological environment. It was always going to be the case that we’d start to abuse that easy connectivity just as we abuse easy access to food. See Diseases of affluence on Wikipedia.

You might as well blame Cisco.

New Facebook privacy scare!

Massive social network

from Rich Kid's Campus

I love social networking. Say what you will, it’s never been easier to keep in touch with friends and family.

As a technologist, I particularly love the “network” part of it. I’m really happy about the way the big companies have opened up their APIs, which allows third party developers to add all sorts of functionality that no one company, however large, could or would build on their own. I also roll my eyes when people complain that Facebook and other social networks areGASPexposing our personal information without our knowledge. Why? Because it’s not without our knowledge. You don’t even have to read fine print to understand that. Sharing personal information is the purpose of social networks after all. It does mean that people share more than they used to, and that can be embarrassing in ways that didn’t used to be possible, but I think it’s worth it.

Yet I’ve realized recently that I shouldn’t be quite so dismissive every time I see yet another “FaceBook Privacy Scare!” headline. There’s a valid point to the concerns about what happens to your data in social networks. Even though it should be obvious that saying/revealing/posting things on a free public site is by nature a public exposure, what isn’t obvious is that modern data-mining techniques have ramifications here that almost no one is truly prepared for. After all, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic: Continue reading

We Live In the Future

Dan dressed as Neo from The MatrixI’m on a train from Washington, DC to New York, currently passing through Philadelphia. We’ll be at New York’s Penn Station in 90 minutes. I just looked up from the book I’m reading on my iPhone and saw a building with a sign on it: Penn Proton Therapy Center. Now I’m writing a blog entry on my iPhone. I don’t feel like spending a couple of dollars on 3G access (I live in Europe, so I’m roaming here) and WiFi hasn’t been installed on this train yet, so I’m writing this in the Notes app instead of directly to my blog, which is hosted in a data center in…er…I have no idea.

Stop and read that again. Only, this time, pretend you are the average human. Remember that the average human does not have access to the Internet and can’t get to this blog. In fact, the average human lacks running water.

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Winning

I’m married to a woman who leaves me in awe, I have a great job, I’m living in my favorite city in the world, and I’m raising two amazing little boys.

Charlie Sheen, eat your heart out.

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Update 2012-04-04: I’m still winning, as you can see:

A boy on a playground swing, his dad helping.

There’s no substitute for hands-on experience

Imagine you’re building a car to spec. You can plan and design and draw and measure for weeks and months and build for more weeks and months.

AndSitting in a convertible, testing door and roof. 3 seconds after you sit in it for the first time, you will know whether the location of the ignition and headlight switch is obvious. 3 minutes into your first drive, you will know whether the steering wheel is too far away, whether the pedals have too much travel, and whether the rear headrests obscure your view out the back. 3 days into your ownership, you will know whether your elbow will spill your coffee when shifting into 2nd, 4th, and 6th gear, and whether you can adjust the volume without looking.

Even the technicians building the car would not easily notice these things. The audio engineer might hold the finished audio unit in her hands, but she’d have to work to imagine what it would be like to use while driving. Another technician can manipulate the transmission a hundred times, and never even know there will be a cup-holder behind it. After all, the interior designer only met with him to discuss the material and labelling on the shift knob.

Everyone on the team, the customer, the head engineer, the designers, and all the technicians, should try to sit in the car, in all the seats, many times during the process. What they learn will improve the functioning of all the components and their integration.

And if the production is delayed? A customer who can come sit in the car anytime he wants, and see and feel the progress, however slow, will be happier than one who has to sit through another presentation of what the car will be like when it’s finished.