Friday, January 30, 2015

Why I like transparency

The idea of transparency comes up a lot around web issues, which to me is just committing yourself to giving people information they need to make an informed decision, so it's a great thing. Now there can be questions about what information is actually needed, but when you are working with folks instead of fighting or trying to fool them, then those can be worked out.

Now here's what I think is a fascinating article on the subject about Reddit:

Reddit hops on to the transparency bandwagon, releases its first report

Where I've linked back to the article on TechSpot.

What jumped out at me immediately was how few requests Reddit got from the government. Quoting from the article:

"... Reddit received a mere 55 requests for data on 78 of its users last year..." (italics mine)

That is amazing to me, but let's contrast with what the article says about someone else:

"Considering that Reddit boasts more than 174 million users, the number of requests the company received is quite low. In contrast, Google’s latest transparency report revealed they had received 3,105 government requests..."

And Reddit didn't even honor all of them or accept requests not to disclose:

"Reddit says that several government requests it receives contain demands to withhold notice from users that carry no legal weight, adding that the company actively disregards these non-binding demands..." (italics mine)

I loved that one.

Kind of have the feeling the government recognizes diminishing returns on pushing Reddit around.

I really like transparency and cheer reports that give people information they need! And that information can tell you quite a bit about so many things of importance.

James Harris

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Computers don't care about race

Made a post where I gave my position on diversity in coding, and to me the reality of writing code for computers is extremely important though often lost in commentary on the subject, as computers don't care about any of that stuff. Computers don't care about race, or sex or any of those things that trip up human beings.

And I have thought that to myself while working through compiler errors which the compiler dutifully shows me, over and over again even when I'm struggling for some reason through a massive debugging session which I hate. Prefer pristine code that just runs right from the start, which I actually have more of now, but starting out, there was that dread when doing the compile and screen would fill with compiler errors.

And the compiler didn't snicker at me. Didn't suggest that maybe I just wasn't good enough.

Computers offer that wonderful arena where this brilliant device with awesome computing power will just try to do what you tell it to do. No backtalk. No snide remarks. No questioning your worth as a human being.

So to me writing computer code is where discriminated against people should go! Because the computer is like this brilliant friend which JUST DOES NOT CARE about that stuff.

And only merit should matter when it comes to writing computing code as in actuality that's all that matters anyway.

Computers are tearing down divides like race and sex or other irrelevant stuff. Because if you hire some guy because he looks like you versus someone who can write brilliant code then you will pay the price down the line.

And the difference between good coders and crappy coders is so huge there is no hiding it.

A good coder can do in days what a team of crappy coders can't do in a year.

And I assure you, if you have people paying millions for development, and they have the metrics to see that Team A, which just randomly happens to be very diverse, can code with half the price or less, than Team B, where all the team look the same, they will go with Team A. Without hesitation.

Being someone who has been in the position of looking at what happens in the real world, hey, I was a Java team lead. Got picked out of a diverse group of people, but reality was the people from this country were mostly white guys. Others were from India and Pakistan.

Being in charge of that team was a fascinating experience and I learned everything I need to know about diversity in coding, where it's simple: computers don't care about that stuff.

James Harris

Monday, January 26, 2015

So what about diversity in coding?

Put up a post doing my own survey of social media and wow, that thing roared up the Beyond Mundane charts, and is the top post in the last 30 days. Thank you for all who were interested.

That helps me think more about posts that matter to people other than me, as a goal of this blog is finding community in shared interest. I share things that interest me with the idea that it might be of interest to others as well. Helps to know what others might find interesting!

And I made two posts where the first one ended up at #8 (and for those wondering about these rankings they are from the right and down on your screen, where the most popular posts are listed). In that post I talked about the idea of Superstar code and mentioned Linus Torvalds as a code hero, and today, wouldn't you know, found out he had been in the news recently!

And if you want to chase that link and read what that article said, fine, but what caught my attention was the issue of diversity in coding. It's not a subject I talk about much on my own though it has relevance to me, but my main position is: merit is what matters.

Given that plenty of other people say the same thing and I am agreeing with that part of what Linus Torvalds said, it raises the question of why some people think this way and others push the issue of racial diversity and more women coders in a way that may appear to challenge the position that only merit matters.

But you see, forcing merit as the only thing that matters is the way to diversity.

That way people who want to code for a living can focus on learning how, getting really great at it, and not be concerned that won't matter because of their sex or race or ethnicity.

So what about my experience in the workplace?

Will admit spent a lot of time when I was working as a coder, and actually in other jobs, where there were few people of my race. And I have worked with female coders, and even lead one when I was a Java lead developer and she ended up being my best coder.

So what gives? What is my opinion about why so little diversity in the coding world, if merit is what matters, really?

Look at someone like Steve Jobs--who I like to bring up as he's a great example--and consider what he was doing when he was 12. He had unbelievable access to top technology. The fire was sparked in him at a young age with direct experience. That is typical of top coders.

Not willing to claim I'm a top coder, but when I was 12, yup, was coding. Had an early computer on which I learned BASIC like so many others. But also had a community college course on BASIC. Later had a computer course at Duke University on structured C, when I was 16. And would code after school when I was in high school on the computer lab computers though I didn't take any of the school's computer courses as I saw them as too primitive for me.

ALL kids should be coding when they are 12, as that seems to be a key age, and as I'm not a developmental scientist I put that as an opinion, but in case after case of top people that age seems to pop up. Like, even with Albert Einstein, going to another arena. It seems to be a critical age to focus on high level abstract reasoning, which includes coding, and mathematics.

(Someone should do a survey and see how many coders were started by age 12.)

And so ALL kids should get classes in writing code for computers just like they all get classes on reading and writing and arithmetic.

Some of them will get that spark and keep working at it, and become top coders.

And that's it.

James Harris

Sunday, January 25, 2015

My social media survey

Been thinking more abstractly about social media lately, so it seems worth it to get more concrete and talk out more of my own personal reality with it across various social media accounts. Not considering blogs social media though technically they are. For me my blogs are more the stable zone. They're the base around which I do other things.

Maybe my least used account is my belated MySpace one, which I checked recently, because I think they emailed me or something. And haven't found myself going back, so I'm not sure if they fixed what I think was the biggest reason Facebook beat them, as in my opinion, it was JUST the stream.

To me the stream is the most important thing to consider across any social media account.

And the stream is the flow of updates, like on Twitter is the line of tweets, or updates on Facebook, or photos in Instagram. The biggest social media that doesn't have a conventional stream for me is Pinterest, but they do have a stream. It's not conventional in that Pinterest gives you a two-dimensional view of new pins.

Why is the stream so important? Novelty.

Here's a tweet I made which shows you what I think of novelty.

You take away the novelty and you lose that thing that keeps people constantly checking the social media accounts, just to see if there's something new. Which is probably why I'm going to check my Facebook accounts several more times today. Without that stream of updates, you lose that novelty.

My Twitter stream is my most addictive one. Probably check it hundreds of times a day at times, so sometimes have to schedule breaks from it.

On Google+ was frustrated scrolling down through their stream as it's too detailed. They seem to be cutting off the stream at some point now, which actually helps. I kind of wish they'd let you have a digest version.

Oh yeah, the digest version is anyway you can scrunch down the data in the stream to make it more accessible so you can scan rapidly through it. On Google+ I get bogged down. There's so much rich content that I reflexively ignore some, like videos, refusing to click on them, unless they're really enticing. That's not a good thing.

Have talked about my most used already, where things are least public on Facebook and Instagram in that on Facebook I deleted my public profile on me as I got frustrated trying to figure out what to put on it--and now it's back, just kind of random. And haven't posted to my Instagram in a long time though I get on it every day, to do Likes! I like, liking on Instagram, maybe more than anywhere else, so it's more of a follow experience.

Created a new public profile on Facebook for my math ideas, and it has one Like, mine.

Facebook is an arena of frustration for me.

Only social media area worse? YouTube.

Have some practice videos on YouTube so really don't care, but it's as bad as Facebook, where can go for long periods where I get no Likes on Facebook for things, on YouTube can get zero views. But I am pondering why. Guess technique has something to do with it, along with other things.

My social media presence can be puzzling where more web analytics has helped me out a lot, so I will admit that my most dominate account in terms of views and apparent influence is my Twitter account, followed by my Google+ account, where you can see views now, followed by my Pinterest account.

And I will admit my Pinterest account gets a bit over 800 views per month, so not talking big numbers, but better than public on Facebook or YouTube, by like, infinity.

I'm spending more time trying to figure out Pinterest than anything else, as I think the potential is greatest.

Why not put up links to all these in this post? Why bother? I'm talking things out.

And those are the social media accounts most worth discussing where I have others, where so far there is far less activity or it's more experimental.

Biggest point I think? The stream is the thing.

What pulls people to constantly check, and check, to see if something interesting happened?

The stream.

And by far for me the biggest thrills come on Twitter where things can just get, well completely wild.

Oh yeah, so didn't talk follower counts at all. Well, mostly I don't worry about followers. Not surprisingly that doesn't help to get a lot of them. On Twitter have 120 at time of this post. Don't disclose Google+ follow numbers. On Pinterest have 4.

Yeah, I don't worry about followers which is good as I don't have bragging rights there. Hardly worth mentioning the numbers, eh?

James Harris

What about Superstar code?

Was watching an old video of Steve Jobs doing a very good interview which was a bit before he returned to Apple, and he talked about how some coders were just incredibly good, and I won't give the statistics he gave as to how much better, but it is remarkable to me how hidden that is.

Like consider mathematics, where you have great names like Gauss, where there are all kinds of "gaussian" things. Just do a web search. I just checked now and Google had four ready suggestions, like gaussian distribution.

In code you have design patterns which are great. But that to me is more about common themes in coding versus standout code itself. Of course there are so many languages, and algorithms I'm sure get named, but you ever have that bit of code that you keep thinking about? Buried in some application you helped build and design years ago? Ever wonder about that code?

I do.

There is an art to coding, which I think isn't yet being recognized fully yet. And having some idle thoughts though I have been putting more brainstorming ideas in this direction, like my suggestion that coders get paid by how often their code is used in an application.

Coding is still too anonymous I think. Big names get known more for products though you have people I think of as code heroes like Linus Torvalds. But even there I haven't dug into his coding but know of him, of course, because of Linux.

Of course I'm on the periphery of the software industry now. Haven't hung out with coders in a while.

You know? I do kind of miss that excitement, like when your team goes home because you're going to re-write everything more efficiently--which I know is frowned upon these days--certain you're nuts, and they come back in the morning and you've re-done weeks of coding work. And it's better, easier to read, more efficient, and includes coding solutions that just seemed to appear only to now just be part of one more application.

When will masterpieces of coding work get their due?

But you know? If a particular coding block in an application makes millions because people are paying attention to what code in the application is the workhorse as it actually gets used then yeah, that's Superstar code in our money focused world.

Wouldn't you think? Heck, even major newsers with no clue really how the code even worked would report on it, just because. And then you'd have this freaking famous coding block. To me that just sounds like it should already be here. It belongs here.

Just some Sunday musing in the morning, listening to, um, Fiona Apple on web radio, sipping my second cup of coffee.

I like to call Fiona Apple the Muse, and hey, everybody has to find their own muse and there is no judgment allowed, of muses. Hey, when you find a muse that works, don't question.

(Oh yeah, some Radiohead came on while I was editing, listening to that now as I type. I didn't even realize I knew any of their music.)

James Harris

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why ideas rule

To me ideas are like precious gems that can be easily found on the surface of our reality, or are deeply buried requiring deep mining. But they are indestructible gems, when they are worth anything.

You can try to leverage an idea early, which is ok for small ones, or you can play the long game.

If you play that well enough, then maybe you can find your place in human history, as your best ideas can simply drag you there.

That's my opinion.

James Harris

Saturday, January 17, 2015

My opinion on best case idea scenario

The web world is so new that I find myself trying to figure out things, and do things that make sense from that analysis so maybe to other people it's too mysterious. And while I think mystery matters, I also think it pays to help people understand.

So I'm going to explain what I think is a best case idea scenario, by using an example of what I think was very close.

Years ago I was frustrated with my pc waiting on it to load.

After a bit I opened a web browser which was going slowly while the freaking thing continued to load, and I'm thinking to myself: that's silly, why is this computer loading a bunch of stuff I don't need?

So at some point I decided to write a post. And while writing, it occurred to me that what I was thinking was that there should be a browser focused operating system. And I'm like, hey, that's BOS.

So that's what I called it. And that post was back May 2008. And if you read it, I was a little hyperbolic. Was kind of in a ranting mood that day I guess. Smiling re-reading it now, as it's not too bad, but that's why I try to not post too emotional. And noticed that I didn't go too much into specifics though I kind of surprise myself reading it as to how many I did give, or tried to give.

But you know it's just some ideas I had. Had a place to put them, and kind of wanting that to happen, plus I assumed it was inevitable.

And of course Google came out with a COS, the Chrome Operating System.

Did they use my ideas? I have no idea and would just as soon presume, no. It's not like it's that big of a leap. And reality is that I don't need the attention if they did, though I was mentally prepared for it. Like I've done with lots of things.

The web lets you do this weird thing, as it gives independent validation for the factual points. Notice, nothing for anyone to challenge in this post, and no reason for me not to have put that post up over 6 years ago!

The web validates everything for you. That's so cool. Takes a while to process though.

But take it from me, it's very annoying arguing with people about stuff. Web can handle that for you on automatic.

That's my best case idea scenario: I put out some ideas, a little later the market produces something I think is similar, and I don't get bothered by any of it.

James Harris

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Expected alignment idea

One of those things that interests me is what people expect to see in a certain social media context. And I'm still thinking as well about some ideas I quickly brainstormed at the end of last year. And oh yeah, by the way, that's a lot of fun. So I kind of just began musing to myself, realized I had quite a few ideas, and then just dumped them out on my blog.

It's so much fun to have your own blog. Like, if I didn't have this blog, where would I have put that writing?

It really wouldn't have fit on my other blogs as well as here, and now I'm pondering other aspects of what a social media company might, in my opinion, need.

One thing I think would be an innovation would be allowing posters to put up an expected alignment. Like tags, I guess, so if I'm going to put up math, I'd note for the expected audience that the subject would be mathematical in nature.

It's already a concept used in gaming. I'm thinking about something more specific though, where for instance a person might note an alignment of conservative, religious, pragmatic. And I'd keep out alignments too closely related to prejudice, like race or sex, or sexual orientation, or a specific religion, or age. Another person might align, liberal, free spirit, creative.

That may seem like it's primarily for the audience, but I think finding people who just want to make a mess of things is good, but how do you identify them?

And I think expected alignment could work as it's self-identification, and then you can check complaints against expected alignments.

So if you have a group of people who align well, and one person mis-aligns and receives a lot of complaints you can easily check to see if that person is crashing the party for some reason or other. If their behavior is in keeping with their alignments then they may or may not be.

Or you can check people's behavior against their declared alignment to see if they're lying.

And people could change them at will though a record would be kept, so you could trend to their usual alignment.

Declaring alignment could be completely voluntary. So if people didn't want to do it, they could just, not.

I like that idea. It's kind of like letting people put metaphorical clothing on their cyber selves. And what expected alignment they choose is considered in the context of their behavior, like you wear a suit to one event, and dress down in jeans for usual wear.

James Harris

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Update on sum of squares discovery

Like to play with math to keep my mind active and a little bit ago I posted about a discovery I made with summing squares. There I gave the full result, but I think a special case looks simply prettier which is just a sum of two squares:

x2 + y2 = mn

will always have nonzero integer solutions for x and y, as long as m - 1 is a square and n is greater than 0.

For example: 4952 + 48882 = 176

That result looks like something from antiquity, but it's something I just recently noticed which follows from my own basic math research where I could have had the result back in 2008.

That is the underlying math discovery was in 2008, but I finally decided to name the thing, and with that event figured I should play with it some more and finally noticed this sum of squares result. I have lots of math laying around. Every once in a while I look back over something old.

Underlying technique allows you to do calculations with half the bits. The calculations to get there always involve half as many bits, and maybe that could be useful to someone? I don't know. May as well mention it.

The math is easy too.

Found out I could get answers for:

(x2 + ay2)(u2 + bv2) = p2 + cq2

Where I was web searching trying to see what mathematicians knew in this area--I am NOT a mathematician I should emphasize--and came across a search result which brought up a page where someone was asking that question and I answer it easily.

Here's an example:

(x2 + 2y2)(u2 + 3v2) = p2 + 11q2

Where my methods generate a potential infinity of solutions.

One of the solutions is: x = -1, y = 2, u = -2, v = 2, p = -10, q = 2

Gave my approach at the site too as an answer to the poster's question and it looks like it was promptly deleted! Here's a link to the site with the question.

That actually bugged me a bit but then made me feel better, as I have other number theory results like my own prime counter which I discovered over a decade ago. It's clear I'm doing my part, so the failure is elsewhere.

Regardless, something with which to do things. Does it really matter if some mathematicians somewhere acknowledge it?

James Harris