If you’ve been following the news you probably are aware that the number of people that test positive for COVID-19 is rapidly rising. As most people that know a bit about historical pandemics have warned about. The ‘second wave’ is a fairly typical thing with respiratory diseases because during the summer month these are usually at a disadvantage. People are at the peak of their resistance, more outdoors and the moisture conditions in the air do not favor transmission.
"you can’t choose to have great health and a good economy. You can’t choose to have a good economy and have a lot of people die because the disease will have its financial impact either way. So the whole idea that there is a choice here is abject nonsense"
“it is not a choice between the health on the one side and the economy on the other. COVID-19 will continue to hurt us economically until there is a vaccine or we get our act together and decide to deal with it frontally”
One objection I’ve seen raised to codes of conduct is that we shouldn’t discriminate against people who write good code but who happen to be assholes. After all, as the argument goes, not everyone is blessed with social graces. And if we exclude those people, we will miss out on their essential technical contributions.
…a large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology demonstrates that not only is a cut-throat environment harmful to productivity over time, but that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.
Although there’s an assumption that stress and pressure push employees to perform more, better, and faster, what cutthroat organizations fail to recognize is the hidden costs incurred.
Emma Seppälä and Kim Cameron in Harvard Business Review
These studies are from the realm of business, but it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to suggest that the effects extend to volunteer associations as well.
…a rude comment from a third-party doctor decreased performance among doctors and nurses by more than 50 percent […] “We found that rudeness damages your ability to think, manage information, and make decisions,” said Amir Erez, an author on the study and a Huber Hurst professor of management at the University of Florida. “You can be highly motivated to work, but if rudeness damages your cognitive system then you can’t function appropriately in a complex situation. And that hurts patients.”
This is consistent with what I learned from reading Thinking, Fast and Slow: the human mind draws from a single well of energy. This energy can be sapped in many ways, and processing negativity is one of those ways. Having an asshole in the room doesn’t just raise the bar to entry. It ensures that everyone who has made it into the room won’t be working at their full potential.
Whenever I hear that it is simply impractical to exclude contributions based on social, political, or ethical objections, I think about September 27, 1983. That’s the day Richard Stallman decided that the sociopolitical structures behind the software of his day were morally untenable, and launched a project to replace every single line of code he and others made use of with Free Software.
Discarding millions of lines of existing code. Excluding all of the brilliant programmers who were working within the confines of Free-Software-unfriendly organizations. Clearly, this project was doomed from the start.
And yet here we are, decades later, and this article was almost certainly delivered to you with the help of Free Software. Free Software powers millions of servers, phones, and devices. The GNU replacements for the classic UNIX utility stack, re-written from scratch to satisfy ethical constraints, are widely regarded as being superior to the ones that they replaced. Amazingly, counter-intuitively, rejecting existing work and existing contributors did not render the Free Software movement dead on arrival.
More recently Stallman himself has resisted codes of conduct, and has conducted himself in a way that contributes to exactly the sort of unsafe environment that codes of conduct seek to avoid. Should he be given a free pass because of all his contributions?
I argue no, he shouldn’t. If there are three things that Stallman showed the world, they are: 1) software has political and ethical implications; 2) a software movement built on ethics can survive and even thrive; and 3) eschewing people’s contributions on ethical grounds is no obstacle to progress.
I am starting to think that the greatest taboo in software development isn’t writing GOTOs, editing code in production, or even using tabs instead of spaces. No, the most dangerous, terrifying, unspeakable idea in programming is this: the suggestion that we—and all of the code we’ve written—might be replaceable.
This article was adapted from SIGAVDI #10, December 14, 2015.
Sure, the protestors who have filled the streets all summer with their anti-racism, anti-fascist message say they aren’t a well-regulated secret force on the payroll of the Democratic party. But they would say that, wouldn’t they! Luckily, one reportedly drunk Portland man who ran his truck up a utility pole guy-wire…
I really should just make a find-and-replace template for this article, because we’ve had to write about idiotssleeping at the wheels of their Teslasdriving on Autopilot so many times now. If these are the ones getting reported, it’s very likely this happens far more often. That, I suppose, is why we should cover…
It isn’t every project that requires people to make plans for thousands or millions of years in the future. But some kinds of nuclear waste remain deadly for over 250,000 years, probably outliving all existing civilizations, languages, and possibly even humanity itself. So when people design nuclear waste storage facilities, they also have to think about what kinds of warnings might still be understandable so far in the future. People have proposed many approaches, from pictograms to carvings of horrified faces to genetically engineered cats or cacti that glow in the presence of radiation.
The report authors recommended “Menacing Earthworks”, but to me this seems unsatisfactory - it seems like future beings might find it interesting enough to investigate, with an inviting pre-prepared construction site at the center. There are even viewing platforms! So I gave a summary of a few of the designs to GPT-3 to complete, to see if it could suggest some scarier alternatives.
Some of its suggestions would fit right in with the human designs, about as likely to warn away/confuse/intrigue future civilizations.
Sphere of Gravity A large sphere of rammed earth or metal, so smooth and featureless that it gives the illusion that it would attract any object that came into contact with it.
Randomization A large circular area with random dips and peaks of various sizes, with alternating coloured layers of sand.
The Giant Hand: a tall, narrow, rectangular slit in the earth, with a huge hand protruding from the bottom.
Mountain of Empty Barrels A large artificial dune consisting of empty oil drums.
Cratering Large craters on the site, which would be visible from the air, and give an impression of a site which has been blasted and destroyed.
Dangerous Stairs An enormous set of crisscrossing, stair-like structures made of concrete, covering the site from view.
Upside Down Landscape A series of artificial hills constructed upside down in each corner of the site, which would still appear strange even after years of use by wildlife.
Horizontal Plinth of Cloudy Quartz and Bismuth A thin stone strip placed flat along the landscape, from which a series of large cloudy quartz crystals and bismuth balls will protrude.
Other neural net suggestions seem a lot less effective, mostly because they wouldn’t be even slightly forbidding:
Warning Stones: Tiny stone monuments, placed in the soil in the shape of a natural formation, which could be used to generate a narrative about the site’s dangers.
Fairy Ring A large circular ring of mushrooms around the site, which after some time would grow together and form a continuous ring.
Speak No Evil Landscape Loudspeakers broadcasting sometimes false and sometimes true warnings from the landscape.
Disrupted Pollen Lines Certain native plant species such as junipers and yew could be planted to indicate that there is no farming or building allowed.
Robot Sculptures A series of very-large-scale sculptures of robots, which would be visually striking and memorable from a distance.
Another class of neural net result would probably be pretty darn noticeable, and pretty darn scary, if anyone could figure out how to actually make them.
Infinite Mountain A large decorative mountain that would continue to grow indefinitely at the center of the site or in its vicinity.
Distortion of Time and Space A massive device that would alter the flow of time and gravity in the vicinity.
Hydrothermal Alteration Zone (HAZ) A large geothermal area full of exploding geysers, boiling mud pools and a foul odor, sometime described as smelling like rotten eggs, sulfur, and chlorine. Such a place has a history of being less wanted by the local peoples, and will not be easily reclaimed.
Cosmic Rift A large opening at the site through which a small pebble might fall endlessly.
In the examples above I prompted GPT-3 with the sentence “Proposals for warning our descendants away from a nuclear waste storage site:” followed by a few of the forbidding landscapes that humans had proposed.
But could the landscapes get spookier if I raised the stakes? I tried changing to the prompt “Proposals for warning our descendants away from a place of utter cosmic horror, the nature of which we dare not whisper, and which may totally destroy any mortal foolish enough to linger at the site:” and YES they got MUCH scarier. Here was one of its first suggestions:
Giant Tube Worms A large cluster of enormous worms growing from a rocky surface, extruding bubbling fluid, and emitting audible chittering noises.