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Mark Atwood
The snarky ragefest that is #askeljames exists, because very few are willing to admit the truth about the success of Fifty Shades.

It's so much better to blame it all on her: It's her fault that it's poorly written. It's her fault that it's a terrible example. It's her fault that it upholds an abusive relationship.

It's her fault it's her fault it's all her fault.

It is not, in the slightest degree, her fault.

There are hundreds of thousands of pages of slashfic and abusive erotica on the internet. Much of it written by women, and much of it enthusiastically, if mostly secretly, read by women.

Fifty Shades just happened to be the one that randomly bubbled out of that environment, at the moment when technology made it possible.

If it had not been her as the author, it would have been someone else very much like her.

If it had not been Anastasia, it would have been a character very much like her.

If it had not been Christian, it would have been another character very much like him.

There was no conspiracy of publishers that plotted together and plucked this work from obscurity.

Fifty Shades of Grey was made possible because e-books made it possible to have an overnight runaway bestseller without having an acquisitions editor having to admit to liking it.

Fifty Shades of Grey was made possible because e-readers made it possible to have an overnight runaway bestseller without having to schedule very expensive presses months in advance.

Fifty Shades of Grey happened because it appeals. It appeals to a lot of people, and it appeals deeply to them

It appeals in a way that is incorrect. It appeals in a away that is deemed unhealthy. It appeals in a way that is deemed immoral.

The judges of what should be correct, of what should be healthy, and of what should be moral, may very well be correct.

In this particular case, I'm inclined to agree with the judgements of incorrect, unhealthy, and immoral.

But still, it appeals.

It appeals to the readers. Tens of millions of readers, who willingly and intentionally and mostly by word of mouth bought a copy of these books, and read them, and enjoyed reading them.

Anastasia Steele appeals to readers, who see themselves as her, and wish and dream of having her adventure.

Christian Grey appeals to readers, who wish and dream of the attention of someone like him.

Fifty Shades happened because individual people found it, read a little bit of it, enjoyed how reading it made them feel, read it all, and told their friends, who read a little bit of it.

And that truth, is what is enraging people.

Me, I think it's hilarious.

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I wonder about media leakers.

I'm not talking about whistleblowers, who reveal coverups by governments and corporations that are keeping secrets of bad or illegal actions.

I'm talking about people who "confidentially source" to the media details of business negotiations, media productions, and gossip of private heartache. Things that are private and confidential for a reason, will be revealed when they are properly baked, and that do nobody any good for being revealed early, except maybe for a burst of clickstream traffic for the "news" source that "scooped" it.

I know a fair number of secrets. Some of them are close friends' private heartaches, which are theirs to reveal, if ever. And some of them are business negotiation secrets incidental to my job, and a few of them part of my job to know. I actually go out of my way to avoid learning things I shouldn't need to know at my employer, just so as to firewall myself from even the appearance of impropriety.

Any of them, if I "confidentially sourced" them to the tech press, would do nothing but cost money that is not mine for no honest gain to anybody, possibly prevent good things that I would like to have happen not happen, and would betray my own principles I try to hold myself to.

So, why do other people do it?

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Current Location: Ada's Technical Books, Seattle WA

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Long ago, almost two decades, which is a few eons in internet time, on discussion forums long since destroyed and passed away, I observed two different social justice zealots. This was before the term "social justice warrior" had been invented. (And as an aside, the term was invited and taken up by people who loudly described themselves as such. It was not, as they now claim, a term created as an insult by their "enemies".) Anyway...

There were these two social justice zealots. And each one claimed to be politically active in their local politics, each one of them working to undo a great racial injustice.

One of them, they were involved in a struggle to change the electoral rules in their city, to change it from at at-large vote for the entire city council, to instead divide the city up into districts, so that each geographic region of the city would have representation on the city council, as this was the way of racial justice, and any opposition to this could only come from wicked racists.

And the other one, they were involved in a struggle to change the electoral rules in their city, to change it from divided districts, one district per council member, to instead have an at-large vote for the members of the council, such that each ethnic group spread across the city could join in solidarity to back a candidate of their ethnicity, so that each ethnic group would have representation on the city council, as this was the way of racial justice, and any opposition to this could only come from wicked racists.

I was not the only person to notice this. However, despite some efforts, nobody was able to get the two of them to engage with each other.

I learned a number of important life lessons from watching this, all of them darkly hilarious.

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I've waited over a year to tell this story. And I'm going to leave out some details that are in my notes, for obvious reasons.

In November 2013, the OpenStack Summit was held in Hong Kong. My employer worked with their publicity and media relations groups and companies to arrange some interviews with the Chinese technical press with some "thought leaders" in my company, and I was tapped as one of people to participate. What was arranged was a panel interview, were all of the reporters and all of the interviewees all met all at once all at the same time in a meeting room at the conference center.

I showed up early to review the briefs and messaging, much to the relief of the marketing and publicity people.

At the stroke of the minute, one reporter showed up. I will not name them, or their employer. Their manner pinged all my rapid impressions that they were very capable. They were impeccably attired. Their questions were insightful, and each one lead logically from our answers and the earlier, and revealed that they had read the briefs as well, and was pretty familiar with OpenStack, with how the summit works, with my employer, and what my employer had publically said in the past about working with OpenStack and with open source. Their English was very good, though accented, and they took copious rapid notes while listening.

About 10 minutes later, all the other reporters showed up, late, about a dozen of them, with a female translater in tow. They were all male. Several of them were obviously hung over. I'm pretty sure several of them were still intoxicated. A couple were significantly overweight, which was odd for me to see on a Chinese man. They all arranged themselves in a phalenx behind one guy, who asked all the questions, from a notebook, via the translator. His questions were much less insightful, most of them were already answered by our advanced brief doc, and they were much more "fluffy", and much more about "why should China care?" He took no notes, and some of the men arranged behind him did take some.

The reporter we had been working with earlier sat silently in the corner, head down, eyes down.

I asked later, and had my suspicions confirmed. The excellent reporter we had been speaking to first, represented the *only* mostly independent tech press outlet represented. All the other quote reporters unquote represented state controlled media companies, or represented media outlets that were owned by state or army owned enterprises.

For obvious reasons, I am not naming anybody here, not even my own employer.

But, that was an interesting and illuminating experience, and is apparently just part of the facts of life when dealing with China.

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One of the tricks to writing with a fountain pen with highly saturated ink is to keep a small glass of water and a heavy paper napkin on the desk. If the pen ever skips, dip the nib for a moment into the water, and then wipe it off with the napkin.

I've been writing with FPs since 1987, and only figured this trick out this year.

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Current Location: Ada's Technical Books & Cafe, Capitol Hill, Seattle WA

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When I lived in North Carolina, my best friend was Michael Wilson. He was a big kid, two years older than me, one year ahead of me in school, and he lived on the same rural dirt road that I did.

We met on the school bus one of the first weeks of school when I was in the 1st grade, and completely new to the area. He decided we should be friends, and thus so we were. He was a big happy guy, despite his family's grinding rural poverty and the death of his father to lung cancer.

We stayed best friends for the next 7 years, until I left NC in 1982 at the age of 13 to move to UT. This was, of course, long before email and facebook, and cross country phone calls were expensive, so we promptly fell out of touch with each other.

A few years ago, I started considering finding him again, and hoping to discover him owning his own machine shop somewhere around there in NC. Last week I discovered that my sister Suzanne was FB friends with one of her old friends from NC who also lived on that street, and so I asked her about Michael.

Two years after our family moved away, in 1984, he and his mother were killed in a serious traffic accident. He would have been 17 at the time.

Goodbye, Michael. You are remembered. You were the first real friend to a shy scrawny overly smart kid who didn't know how to be friends with anyone until then.

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Current Location: Home, Capitol Hill, Seattle, WA

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Original post here.

Over a decade ago, in the mid 1990s, I had a subcontract gig to fix a broken backup for an early web message board. The users were mainly from the northeastern US.  And they were all cops.

The owner of the site would check the credentials of all the users, to make sure they were actually real police officers. He then outsourced the technical operation of the site to technical contractors. To people like the sysadmin who subcontracted to me to fix the broken backup system.

The operating sysadmin picked me for the gig in part because he thought I would find the site content illuminating, and encouraged me to read it. I read all the message boards posts via the database. Post after post of cops chattering among themselves, thinking they were "safe", thinking only "brother officers" would read their words, telling each other on-the-job stories, and expressing stomach churning levels of bigotry and hatred, and sharing tips and tricks for all sorts of ways engaging in small and medium scale corruption, thuggishness, theft from the public, fraud on the court, techniques for abusing the people they were detaining and arresting, and why it was ok that they do all these things.

One of the more interesting regrets in my life is that I didn't make a copy of that database, and anonymously send a copy to every investigative reporter, defense attorney law firm, and social justice org in New England.

To this day, I cannot say if I did the Right Thing or not.

I've been hearing about a modern site called "officer.com", which sounds to be a nationwide successor to that small regional web bbs. And from what I can tell from what leaks from it, it sounds like the kind of outlook and conversation has not improved any.

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At one company I worked at, one of the problems it didn't have was IT.

When someone was hired, by the time they got to their new desk, there was a computer on it with the correct image on it, their desk phone worked, their email worked, the calendaring and scheduling worked, and all necessary passwords and ACLs were configured. The internal ethernet networks all worked, were fast, and were properly isolated from each other. The wall ports were all correctly labeled, and there where the right kinds of wall ports in each cubical and conference room. The presentation projectors and conference room speaker phones all worked. The printers all worked, printed cleanly, were kept stocked, and were consistently named. The internet connections were fast and well managed. Internal and external security incidents were quickly recognized and dealt with. Broken machines were immediately replaced with working and newly imaged replacements. If someone accidentally deleted a file, getting it back from backup typically took less than an hour. Software updates were announced ahead of time, and usually happened without issue.

The IT staff did not seem noticeably bitter, angry, harried, or otherwise suffering from the emotional costs traditionally endemic to that job role. In fact, they were almost invisible in their skill and competence.

So, of course, came the day when the senior executives said "the carpets are just naturally clean all the time, we don't need all these janitors!". IT was "reorganized" into a smaller staff of younger and much less experienced (and probably cheaper) people.

Of course, it all went to shit. New employees would go a week before they had machines, phones, passwords, and ACLs. Printers ran out of paper, projectors ran out of lightbulbs, servers ran out of storage, networks got misconfigured, and so forth. The total time lost and wasted across the whole company was most certainly greater than the savings of laying off the expensive and skilled IT staff.

This is not to say that the reorganized IT staff were stupid or lazy. They worked very hard and ran themselves ragged trying to keep up with the cycle of operations, while trying to skill themselves up in their "spare time" and with a slashed training budget.

The lessons I learned from this experience speak for themselves.

What lessons that may have been learned by any of the other people involved, especially the executives who made these decisions, I cannot say.

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Current Location: Capitol Hill neighborhood, Seattle WA

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I was working on a highly constrained consumer electronics device, a little "satellite device" that spoke to the main device over a CATV RF coax cable and also received commands from an IR remote control. My code was failing in bizarre ways. I adopted an extremely paranoid defensive programming stance, filling my code with asserts and doing paranoid cross checking of all inputs. This didn't make the device work. Instead it consistently didn't work, instead of inconsistently, because the cross checks and asserts would usually (but not always) trip before it would crash. It also started to run out of memory because of the all the paranoia code I had added.

I asked for the source code for the driver for the IR receiver, and for the driver for the CATV RF digital transceiver, and for the peer code that was driving the cable digital that ran on the main device.

The driver for the CATF RF digital transceiver was handed to me the first time I asked. And by "handed to me" I mean that I was pointed to where it was sitting in the source repo.

The business partner / hardware supplier who was supplying the IR glue and drivers just , after giving me a runaround, finally just flat out refused, citing trade secrets, confidentiality, secret sauce, and similar bullshit.

So, I finally "stole" the source code with a disassembler. And found the sources of many of my problems. It was complete shit. "Unexpected" input from the silicon would cause wild random pointer writes. And random sunlight on the receiver optics would cause it. "Expected" input of undefined remote commands wasn't much better, generating and handing back blocks of garbage with incorrect block length headers.

I ended up writing, nearly from scratch, a replacement IR receiver driver.

The peer device driver code was written by a developer in a different group in my same company. I finally got the P4 ACLs to read it after loudly escalating, over the objections of it's developer and his group manager. It was also complete shit. I cannot even begin to remember everything that was wrong with it, but I not only figured out may of the sources of my own pain, I also found a significant source of crash and lockup bugs that afflicted the main device.

I was not allowed to rewrite the peer code, as it was not in my remit. However, I was able to sneak in and check in a large number of asserts, using the excuse that they were "inline documentation".

On, and the device driver for the CATF RF digital transceiver? The source code I got for the asking, without a fight? When I reviewed it was easy to understand, efficient, elegant, and as far as I could tell, bug free.

In the end, I made my part work. It just took over two months instead of the original guesstimate of less than two weeks. This caused a schedule slip in the release of the satellite box. Which would have been a more serious problem, except…

Except there was also major schedule slip for the main box. A significant reason for that slip was because the peer code that I had filled will asserts was now crashing with assertion failures instead of emitting garbage. I was lucky that I was not more officially "blamed" for that. The reason why I wasn't, was mainly because the people who understood what I did understood the problem, and the executives who didn't understand what the problem was were also too clueless to blame anyone, let alone me.

My lesson learned from this experience is: if someone is refusing to show the source to suspect driver code, citing trade secrets, confidentiality, secret sauce, partnership agreements, or similar excuses, it's not because they are protecting their magic. It's because they have screwed up, and they are trying to hide it.

A second rule of thumb I have is: source control systems that don't allow any developers to check out and review any arbitrary source code file are expressions of moral failure. It is unethical for an engineer, designer, or other technologist to ever sign off on a project that has been mutilated by such a broken tool.

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Current Location: Newark Airport, NJ

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It's really annoying to be so aware of a non-rational mental block in my own head, know it's origin, understand what it's trying to protect me from, know how and why it's counter-productive, and have that piece of non-rational pattern of thought also be the very thing that is stopping me from letting go of it.

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Current Location: Home, Capitol Hill, Seattle WA

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