2018-11-02

Unionism in Silicon Valley - called it

Back in January I made the following prediction:

What do I think? Twitter, Facebook and Google offices in the USA are going to be hit with unionization efforts in the next 12 months, initially as a trial in the most favorable locations but if they succeed then this will be ramped up quickly nationwide. This will be framed as a push to align the companies to approved socially just policies - which their boards mostly favor already - but will be used to leapfrog the activist employees into union-endorsed and -funded positions of influence.

Sure enough, a bunch of Google staff walked out of work today, nominally to protest at ex-Android head Andy Rubin getting a cool $90M in severance after being accused of dubious behaviour with someone in a hotel room, which he denies:

Rubin said in a two-part tweet: “The New York Times story contains numerous inaccuracies about my employment at Google and wild exaggerations about my compensation. Specifically, I never coerced a woman to have sex in a hotel room. These false allegations are part of a smear campaign to disparage me during a divorce and custody battle. Also, I am deeply troubled that anonymous Google executives are commenting about my personnel file and misrepresenting the facts.”
For the record, Rubin sounds a bit sleazy even if you apply a high degree of scepticism to the exact circumstances of the event.

Let's look at the "official" walkout Twitter account, and wonder who's actually driving this organisation:

For posterity, the "demands" are:
  1. An end to Forced Arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination for all current and future employees.
  2. A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity.
  3. A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report.
  4. A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.
  5. Elevate the Chief Diversity Officer to answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations directly to the Board of Directors. Appoint an Employee Rep to the Board.
Points 1-4 seem pretty reasonable - but what does point 5 have to do with the rest of the list? And who would this "Employee Rep" be - a unionisation activist, perchance? $10 says I'm right. This is a classic tactic: take a reasonable area of complaint and use it as a Trojan Horse to sneak in the early stages of unionisation to the company.

Google allegedly employs very smart people. If only they exercised their critical faculties half as well as their intellects, they might be asking uncomfortable questions of the protest organisers about where point 5 came from and who the organisers have in mind to take on "employee rep" duties. I guarantee you that it's not Rob Pike or Jeff Dean.

2018-10-21

CASH / CASSH 2017 and the importance of attracting funding

Both my regular readers will recall my personal crusade to investigate the Marcela Trust and why UK "charities" such as "Consensus Action Salt for Health" (CASH) and "Action on Sugar" (different branch of same charity) are being funded to stop people eating bacon.

As part of this ongoing investigation I downloaded CASH accounts for 2016-2017 from the UK Charity Commission website. Saved a copy as well for future reference. The TL;DR:

  • Rebranded to Consensus Action on Salt, Sugar and Health (mission-merged title, happened some time after April 2016);
  • Notes that they're associated with charity Blood Pressure UK featuring long-time CASSH reps Katharine Jenner and Prof. Graham MacGregor (and they accidentally mis-cite the charity number, it's 1058944 not 1059844);
  • Blood Pressure UK burned through 30% of their funds in year-end 2017 (£210K to £140K) so it's anyone's guess how long this venture will last without a cash infusion;
  • CASSH brought in £50K in 2017 - down from £215K in 2016 - and spent £250K in 2017 - up from £153K in 2016. So they're down from just over £750K in funds to a bit over £560K. This doesn't seem very sustainable long-term
  • Basically, no-one is giving CASSH any significant amount of money. Tragic, really. I'd imagine that the general choke-off in government funds to "charities" is starting to bite.
  • About half their expenditure is in food salt/sugar surveys; seems that those surveys aren't translating into funding for action. No-one cares about what they find.
  • In summary, CASSH is going to run out of cash in the next 3-5 years unless they can find a charity or government agency with reasonably deep pockets to fund their surveys

Great quote from their annual report:

Andrea Martinez-Inchausti told attendees [of the CASH reception at the House of Commons, sponsored by Sir David Amess MP] that BRC members, such as Tesco and Waitrose, are committed to salt reduction but following initial reductions, further reductions in salt are posing a technical challenge.
Let me guess: no-one wants to eat food with near-zero salt?

In fairness, I'd note that a key difference between CASSH and the Marcela Trust is that the latter sends large chunks of its finances to a few directors in remuneration, whereby CASSH at least has the decency to avoid hosing money at its trustees. (I'm curious about where in detail the £120K of survey cash goes, but have no reason to believe it ends up in CASSH trouser pockets).

Ah, CASSH. It seems that trying to reduce sugar and salt consumption in the UK, or indeed world-wide, is very much a minority interest and not one than people are prepared to back with significant quantities of their own money. I'm sure people talk a good game, but their revealed preferences in funding show that they don't actually care. Sorry guys!

2018-10-06

Post Kavanaugh confirmation the Left loses its fecal matter

An hour or after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as the replacement for Associate Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court I decided to trawl Liberal Twitter for the reaction. I was not disappointed.

Yes, I'd imagine it did. I wonder why history seems to be repeating itself?

Yes. They've given Republicans a significant boost in advance of the November mid-terms, where Democrats were previously indicated as performing well. Well done survivors! Bet you're pleased.

The Democratic party?

Also, the republic's legislative branch function of selecting the members of the judiciary.

It says "men can be just as blind to facts and the principles of justice as women. Yay equality!" Also "what's with the red suit, Reverend, are you trying to attract attention to yourself rather than your celestial Boss?"

Should we bring Bill Clinton's hands into the discussion then? How about (Heaven forfend) Joe Biden's?

I'm fine with making these cheap shots. The Democratic senators and associated mob who tried to lynch Brett Kavanaugh made this confirmation expensive enough for him and his family - and for Christine Ford, let us not forget. Let's have some symmetry.

2018-09-30

Mandatory women on California boards of directors: the potholes in SB-826

In a huge strike for equality[1], California has decreed that all-male boards of directors need to go the way of the dinosaurs:

This bill, no later than the close of the 2019 calendar year, would require a domestic general corporation or foreign corporation that is a publicly held corporation, as defined, whose principal executive offices, according to the corporation’s SEC 10-K form, are located in California to have a minimum of one female, as defined, on its board of directors, as specified. No later than the close of the 2021 calendar year, the bill would increase that required minimum number to 2 female directors if the corporation has 5 directors or to 3 female directors if the corporation has 6 or more directors.
Of course, there could be no material ill effects from this policy. Otherwise, I'm sure they'd have been addressed in the California Senate, whose members are clearly much more concerned with the financial health of their state rather than virtual signaling.

Speaking of which, I have a very attractive bridge situated between San Francisco and northern California which I'd be willing to sell to any interested reader.

Did anyone notice that this implies that it requires moderate-sized boards to move to 50% female representation within three years? I'm sure that this is excellent news for moderately-well-known near-C-level (tech, pharma) females in California. If I could buy shares in this demographic, I'd be all-in. However, a more directly accessible trading strategy would be based around the aforementioned set of California-based companies with 10 or fewer board members. Please note that this is not professional trading advice, you'd be crazy to trade based on the superficial research of a random person on Twitter, etc.

  • For any such company which already exceeds the 2021 criteria, hold.
  • For any such company which doesn't currently meet the 2021 criteria but will meet it with 1 additional board hire, sell if you hold it.
  • For any such company which needs to hire 2+ females to meet the 2021 criteria, sell short based on the predication of a 2022-2023 disaster
Bringing in people to the board based on gender is unfortunately disproportionately likely - based on ease of discovery - to incorporate vocal SJW-biased women who spend the majority of their time selling the story that "women are discriminated against in tech!" Now, this may even be true - in my experience, it's not, but that's another blog post - but by hiring these women the affected boards of directors are bringing aboard people whose primary interest is the "improve female representation in tech" narrative, rather than (say) "make this company work better and be more profitable". What could possibly go wrong?

In particular, any company hiring Anita Sarkeesian, Ellen Pao, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, Erica Baker or other such vociferous campaigners in the context of this act is doing the equivalent of filling five of six chambers of a revolver with live ammo, pointing it at their head, and squeezing the trigger.

On the other hand, if a company's board can persuade one of its existing male members (ooh err) to "identify as female" then I'd go long on that company based on willingness to turn SJW rules back on themselves. What is California going to say? "Oh, you're not really a woman, you're just pretending?" According to the bill:

“Female” means an individual who self-identifies her gender as a woman, without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.
I'd imagine that any such willing volunteer would see a sharp bump in their compensation.

Practically, this incentivizes a medium-size board of directors which has at least one woman to trim excess (male) directors in order to bring them into compliance without introducing a potentially disturbing (female) member to the board. Expect to see the distribution graph of board sizes in California to take a leftwards lurch in the next couple of years.

Now, let's consider the perspective of a woman hired to a board of directors in a California-based company after this law is passed. How many people in the company will believe she was hired for her expertise? And how long will she hold the label "diversity hire" - even if the board actually hired her for her expertise? If I were a C- or D-level female executive in California, I'd be spitting mad about this devaluation of my expertise. But then, I'd bet that the lobbying for this bill came from the achievement-challenged section of the prospective candidates. "Damn my dubious merits, hire me because I'm kinda-female and very woke!"

[1] For non-British readers, this is irony. There may be more instances of this phenomenon throughout this blogpost.

2018-09-06

Victimhood poker - the implementation

Back in 2006, blogger Marlinschamps proposed the rules for the game of victimhood poker. In a spare couple of hours last weekend, I decided to code this up so that we had an implementation of it. Beloved readers, here is that implementation. It's in Python; I show it in chunks, but it should all go in a single file called e.g. victimhood.py.

First we define the cards in the deck, their points, and their class:

#!/usr/bin/python
# This code is in the public domain. Copy and use as you see fit.
# Original author: http://hemiposterical.blogspot.com/, credit 
# would be nice but is not required.
import random
deck = {
 # Key: (points,class)
 'Black':           (14, 'skin'),
 'Native-American': (13, 'ethnicity'),
 'Muslim':          (12, 'religion'),
 'Hispanic':        (11, 'ethnicity'),
 'Transgender':     (10, 'gender'),
 'Gay':              (9, 'none'),
 'Female':           (8, 'gender'),
 'Oriental':         (7, 'ethnicity'),
 'Handicapped':      (6, 'none'),
 'Satanist':         (6, 'religion'),
 'Furry':            (5, 'none'),
 'Non-Christian':    (4, 'religion'),
 'East-Indian':      (3, 'ethnicity'),
 'Hindu':            (3, 'religion'),
 'Destitute':        (2, 'economic'),
 'White':            (0, 'skin'),
 'Straight':         (0, 'gender'),
 'Christian':        (0, 'religion'),
 'Bourgeois':        (0, 'economic'),
}
# Categories in the order you'd describe someone
category_list = [
 'economic','none','skin','religion','ethnicity','gender',
]
categories = set(category_list)
In addition, a couple of helper functions to make it easier to ask questions about a specific card:
def cardscore(card):
 """ How much does this card score? """
 (s, unused_cls) = deck[card]
 return s

def cardclass(card):
 """ What class does this card represent? """
 (unused_s, cls) = deck[card]
 return cls
Now we define what a "hand" is, with a bunch of functions to make it easier to merge other cards into a hand and compute the best score and hand from these cards:
class Hand(object):
 """ A hand is a list of cards with some associated scoring functions """
 def __init__(self, start_cards=None):
  if start_cards is None:
   self.cards = []
  else:
   self.cards = start_cards[:]

 def add(self, card):
  self.cards.append(card)
  
 def bestscore(self):
  (score, bestcards) = self.besthand()
  return score

 def bestcards(self):
  (score, bestcards) = self.besthand()
  return bestcards

 def besthand(self):
  """ What's the highest possible score for this hand?
  Limitations: one card per class, no more than 5
  cards in total
  Return (score, best_hand)
  """
  score_by_class = { }
  card_by_class = { }
  for card in self.cards:
    try:
      s = cardscore(card)
      card_class = cardclass(card) 
    except KeyError, err:
      raise KeyError("Invalid card name '%s'" % card)
    if card_class not in score_by_class:
      score_by_class[card_class] = s
    if s >= score_by_class[card_class]:
      score_by_class[card_class] = s
      card_by_class[card_class] = card
  # We now have the best scoring card in each
  # class. But we can only use the best 5.
  cards = card_by_class.values()
  cards.sort(lambda x,y: cmp(cardscore(x),cardscore(y)))
  if len(cards) > 5:
    cards = cards[0:5]
  tot = 0
  for card in cards:
    tot += cardscore(card)
  best_hand = Hand(cards)
  return (tot, best_hand)

 def merge(self, hand):
  """ Merge this hand and another to return a new one """
  ans = self.copy()
  for c in hand.cards:
   ans.add(c)
  return ans

 def copy(self):
  return Hand(self.cards)
 
 def __str__(self):
  return ', '.join(['%s (%d)' % (c, cardscore(c)) for c in self.cards])

 def card_in_class(self,class_name):
  """Returns a card in the given class, if the hand has one"""
  for card in self.cards:
   (s,c) = deck[card] 
   if c == class_name:
    return card
  # No match
  return None

 def description(self):
   card_order = [self.card_in_class(c) for c in category_list]
   card_order = filter(lambda x: x is not None, card_order)
   return ' '.join(card_order)
Now we can define a game with a number of players, and specify how many copies of the deck we want to use for the game:
class Game(object):
 def __init__(self, player_count, deck_multiple=2):
   self.player_count = player_count
   self.deck_multiple = deck_multiple
   self.player_hands = { }
   for i in range(1,1+player_count):
     self.player_hands[i] = Hand()
   self.shuffle_deck()
   self.community = Hand()

 def shuffle_deck(self):
   self.deck = []
   for i in range(self.deck_multiple):
    self.deck.extend(deck.keys())
   random.shuffle(self.deck)

 def deal(self, cards_per_player):
   for p in range(1,1+self.player_count):
     for c in range(cards_per_player): 
       card = self.deck.pop()  # might run out
       self.player_hands[p].add(card)

 def deal_community(self, community_cards):
   self.community = Hand()
   for c in range(community_cards):
    card = self.deck.pop()
    self.community.add(card)

 def get_community(self):
  return self.community

 def best_hand(self, player_num):
   h = self.player_hands[player_num]
   # Expand the hand with any community cards
   h2 = h.merge(self.community)
   return h2.besthand()
Finally, we have some code to demonstrate the game being played. We give 5 cards each to 4 players, and have 3 community cards which they can use. We display each player's best hand and score, and announce the winner:
if __name__ == '__main__':
 player_count=4
 g = Game(player_count=player_count, deck_multiple=2)
 # Everyone gets 5 cards
 g.deal(5)
 # There are 3 community cards
 g.deal_community(3)
 print "Community cards: %s\n" % g.get_community()
 winner = None
 win_score = 0
 for p in range(1,1+player_count):
  (score, hand) = g.best_hand(p)
  print "Player %d scores %d with %s" % (p, score, hand)
  print "  which is a %s" % hand.description()
  if score > win_score:
    winner = p
    win_score = score
 print "\nPlayer %d wins!" % winner

Don't judge my Python, y'all; it's quick and dirty Python 2.7. If I wanted a code review, I'd have set this up in GitHub.

So what does this look like when it runs? Here are a few games played out:


Community cards: Christian (0), Native-American (13), Gay (9)

Player 1 scores 40 with Non-Christian (4), Gay (9), Native-American (13), Black (14)
 which is a Gay Black Non-Christian Native-American
Player 2 scores 22 with Christian (0), Bourgeois (0), Gay (9), Native-American (13)
 which is a Bourgeois Gay Christian Native-American
Player 3 scores 30 with Destitute (2), Satanist (6), Gay (9), Native-American (13)
 which is a Destitute Gay Satanist Native-American
Player 4 scores 42 with Female (8), Gay (9), Muslim (12), Native-American (13)
 which is a Gay Muslim Native-American Female

Player 4 wins!


Community cards: Non-Christian (4), Bourgeois (0), Furry (5)

Player 1 scores 24 with Straight (0), Destitute (2), Non-Christian (4), Furry (5), Native-American (13)
 which is a Destitute Furry Non-Christian Native-American Straight
Player 2 scores 26 with Bourgeois (0), East-Indian (3), Non-Christian (4), Furry (5), Black (14)
 which is a Bourgeois Furry Black Non-Christian East-Indian
Player 3 scores 30 with Bourgeois (0), Non-Christian (4), Furry (5), Oriental (7), Black (14)
 which is a Bourgeois Furry Black Non-Christian Oriental
Player 4 scores 33 with Destitute (2), Handicapped (6), Muslim (12), Native-American (13)
 :which is a Destitute Handicapped Muslim Native-American
Player 4 wins!


Community cards: Transgender (10), Muslim (12), Oriental (7)

Player 1 scores 53 with Handicapped (6), Transgender (10), Hispanic (11), Muslim (12), Black (14)
 which is a Handicapped Black Muslim Hispanic Transgender
Player 2 scores 33 with Bourgeois (0), White (0), Transgender (10), Hispanic (11), Muslim (12)
 which is a Bourgeois White Muslim Hispanic Transgender
Player 3 scores 40 with Furry (5), Transgender (10), Muslim (12), Native-American (13)
 which is a Furry Muslim Native-American Transgender
Player 4 scores 37 with Destitute (2), Handicapped (6), Oriental (7), Transgender (10), Muslim (12)
 which is a Destitute Handicapped Muslim Oriental Transgender

Player 1 wins!

What does this prove? Nothing really, it was kinda fun to write, but I don't see any earthshaking philosophical insights beyond the fact that it's a rather silly game. But then, that's true for its real life analogue as well.

Programming challenge: build a function to instantiate a Hand() from a string e.g. "black east-indian handicapped female" and use this to calculate the canonical score. Bonus points if you can handle missing hyphens.

Scentrics worth half a billion quid - and other fiction

Regular readers (both of you) will recall my previous scepticism regarding IT "security" company Scentrics. TL;DR - they're pushing the idea that a key part of "secure" email is sending a copy of every email to a central server, encrypted with a key that only gives access to a trusted party - your local government, for instance. Singapore seemed very interested in their proposals, for reasons one can imagine.

Out of idle curiosity, I thought I'd check the Scentrics accounts for 2016-2017. Well, gosh.

 30 June 2017
£
30 June 2016
£
Fixed assets  
Intangible assets504,014,09220,455
Property, plant and equipment6,4638,618
Investments10-
 504,020,56529,073
Current assets  
Debtors1,051,5561,047,027
Cash at bank893,8152,793,822
 1,945,3713,840,849
Creditors within 1 year(893,718)(893,232)
Net current assets1,051,6532,947,617
Total assets less current liabilities505,072,2182,976,690
Provision for liabilities(99,546,235) 
Net assets405,525,9832,976,690
Capital and reserves  
Called up share capital130130
Share premium5,778,5965,778,596
Retained earnings399,747,257(2,802,036)
 405,525,9832,976,690

How would I read this? They spent £1.9M of their cash on various things during the year; about half of that on medium-to-long term debt servicing, and the rest presumably on overheads (salary, office, patent office fees, other professional service fees). This is clearly not sustainable, and indeed last year they had a net worth (retained earnings) of minus 2.8 million pounds. How could this be fixed?

Well, they've just gained £504 million in intangible assets. The associated notes indicate a "revaluation" of their intangibles happened, which changed from £22K to £560M. There was a 10% amortisation charge ("spreading out") over the year, taking them down to a measly £504M. That's quite a change, what was involved?

Patents and licences were valued on an open market basis on 20 August 2018 by the Directors
There's also the useful information:
Patents and licences are being amortised evenly over their estimated useful life of ten years.
But there's no obvious licence revenue in the company accounts that I can see, and there's still only 4 employees (the directors) so they're not doing anything substantial with the resources, so I'd bet this £560M change is an evaluation of the worth of their patents. Let's look at these, shall we?

The main Scentrics patents pivot around the previously discussed system where a client (mobile, in the most recent patents, but there's nothing specifically "mobile" about them) talks to a centralised mail server to obtain encryption keys to safely send messages to it for routing onwards a destination, and then separately sends a copy of the message (asynchronously! wow, there's some modern thinking) to a "monitoring" server using a different encryption key.

Basically, it's a system for a company or government to enable scanning of email sent by its employees/citizens - as long as they're using its mail application, of course. If the employees use Outlook.com, Gmail, or any number of other public webmail services, they are sunk. So companies will block all the webmail applications by restricting the web browsers in their corporate devices, forcing use of the corporate mail server (Outlook, most likely) which they can snoop on. They don't need Scentrics' patents. Governments would need a willing population to live with the (likely) crappy, unreliable custom email application and not look elsewhere for their email needs. Even China struggles to keep up with restricting their population to approved websites, and they're a gosh-darned communist dictatorship.

It's not impossible that Scentrics reckons they can get a major corporation or government to licence their patents, but I'd have to rate it as unlikely at best. Why would someone pay £500M for it, rather than (say) £5M to get a moderately competent cryptographer to design a better system? The patent is extremely dubious to defend in my personal technical opinion; there are alternative strategies such as encrypting the message with a randomized key, encrypting that key with a) the recipient's key and b) the monitoring service's key, and enclosing both encrypted keys in the message. Then the client only has to send one message, and the monitoring service can store it and decrypt it on demand. But hey, what do I know.

Guru Paran Chandrasekaran and Andrea Bittau - happy to bring you gents up to speed on the state of modern cryptography, if you're interested. No charge!

(They've finally fixed their https problem. Guess it got a bit embarrassing.)

Update: Looks like Andrea Bittau was killed in a motorcycle crash last year. Nothing sinister, just terribly sad - 34 years old.

2018-08-26

Marcela Trust 2017: where's the charity spending?

In my vast fields of free time, dear reader, I scour the accounts of the Marcela Trust so that you don't have to. The accounts for 2017 make interesting reading.

Long story short, the Marcela Trust is steadily burning through the money from OMC Investments, which in turn came from the wind-up of Nissan UK. As of the start of their 2016-2017 financial year they had £86 million; after a bunch of losses on the property market they were left with £81 million at the end of the year. This doesn't seem like a wonderful record for the year for their five trustees:

  • Jeanette Franklin MBE (of the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, MBE for fundraising for them)
  • Dawn Pamela Rose (Marcela Trust stalwart)
  • Brian Arthur Groves (Marcela Trust stalwart)
  • Mark Robert Spragg (Marcela Trust stalwart)
  • Paul Hotham (conservationist, also of Flora and Fauna International which has graced these pages in years past)
and yet the indications are that the trustee remuneration wasn't that much reduced from 2016 accounts. Dawn Rose trousered about £200K in total compensation (down from £270K last year) and Brian Groves got £80K rather than £100K last year. We don't know directly about a couple of the other trustees as they are paid out of a subsidiary company, but the pattern we can see is about a 20% payment reduction from 2016.

Now, the natural temptation is to ask the trustees how they can justify their salaries based on a £5 million loss over the year, but that's not fair - the value of investments can go down as well as up. We should evaluate them on how they manage the charity's spending on charitable causes - after all, that's what a charity is all about. And the accounts note specifically that the trustees do not actively fund-raise - although why they recruited someone with an MBE for fund-raising as a trustee is a bit of a mystery.

The Marcela Trust charity spent a bit over £12K on charitable activities in 2017. Last year it spent £4.8 million - but then, it got £4.75 million in donations.

One is left (per William of Ockham) with the hypothesis that the Marcela Trust trustees view their job as spending the minimum of money on charitable causes that they have to, while personally benefiting from the slowly diminishing OMC assets. I certainly don't know how they can look at this year's figures with a straight face and claim that they should be paid anything beyond a nugatory amount for their efforts.

The theme emerging from the last few years is that someone on the trustees is using the OMC funds to build a steadily growing property empire: among other investments, The Queen's Head Hotel ("QHH Limited"), the Old Post Office in Leeds, something referred to as Greyfriars Colchester which I assume is the eponymous luxury hotel, and now Castel Salbek which "acquired a property in Transylvania which is proposed to be developed into a small luxury hotel." What is a UK-based charity doing investing in a random small hotel in Transylvania? Your guess is as good as mine, but it doesn't seem to be a core focus for the charity, which makes me wonder which trustee has directed this investment, and how they (or their friends) expect to benefit from it.

If I were the Charities Commission, I think I'd be looking over the past few years of accounts and starting to ask some pointed questions about how exactly this entity is behaving as a charity in terms of fundraising for and investing in charitable causes, as opposed to being just a vehicle for speculating in (mostly hotel) property.

2018-08-25

Blacklist your master, and whitelist your slaves - Silicon Valley word police

Working in Silicon Valley ("putting the crazy into California!") is always an education; there seems to be a Shepard tone of neuroticism in and out of the workplace. Every time you think you've seen the craziest thing you can imagine, something nuttier comes along shortly afterwards.

In the world of global-scale computing, big services like Facebook, Twitter and Gmail are very strongly interested in what happens when a machine in their service infrastructure fails. (This is relevant, I promise.) If only one machine knows how to handle data from user Joe, then Joe is going to be very upset when that machine reboots for an OS upgrade (5-15 minutes downtime), or worse becomes permanently unavailable because a data center technician accidentally bridged the rack bus bar onto the hard drive with her [1] screwdriver because she was paying too much attention to the shapely arse of the technician fixing the next rack over.

The natural solution is that you have multiple machines - maybe in multiple datacentres - which know how to handle data from Joe, and there's some kind of load-balancing across them which knows which of those machines are healthy, and which aren't. But out of all of those machines, you need to have at one which has the canonical state of Joe's data, and which all other machines agree to take data from. Otherwise you end up in the state where there are two or more different views of Joe's data, and can't tell which is valid. In that case, the machine with canonical state is known as the "master", and the other machines receiving state from it are known as "slaves".

I think you can see why this terminology has started to become "controversial" to the Usual Suspects:

Problem:
The term Master in Master Components is potentially offensive to people of color and women, and I suggest we use a more inclusive synonym.
Proposed Solution:
Suggest renaming to "Primary Components" or "Leader Components"

(By contrast, when the failure occurs at a higher level in the software, you end up writing garbage to all copies of the data - on both masters and slaves. If you've overwritten previous data, your only hope is to bring it back from an earlier system state snapshot - witness this Gmail inbox wipe-out from 2011.)

That was silly enough, but now the common terminology of "whitelist" (allow these items, but not others) and "blacklist" (allow all items except these) has come under attack:

Per https://twitter.com/dhh/status/1032050325513940992, [Tweet by Ruby-on-Rails founder] I'd like for Rails to set a good example and tone by using better terminology when we can. An easy fix would be to replace our use of whitelist with allowlist and blacklist with denylist.
We can even just use them as verbs directly, as we do with the former terms. So something is allowlisted or denylisted.
Obviously the narrative here is that "black" is associated with negative connotations ("block") and "white" associated with positive connotations ("allow"). So I'd be fascinated to know why they continue to allow Code Pink to seize a positive affirmation space for people of the predominant Western European ethnicity, and refuse to attack the use of "yellow" for cowardice.

It's not just limited to colour of skin - there are a long-term crusades to stop people using "guys" as a generic term for a group of familiar people, "handicapped" for people who are disabled, and "innumerate" to describe Diane Abbott.

It's clear that this is a concerted effort to control the use of language in order to shape ideas - if you're forced to use an approved (restricted) vocabulary, you can't easily express concepts that are regarded as unacceptable by the vocab approvers. And if you think it's going to stop here, I have a bridge to sell you.

I don't have any intrinsic objection to using alternative terminology for master/slave, or for blacklist/whitelist. But I've scrutinised the people calling for this change, and I'm going to keep using the original terminology because civilised people should not yield an inch to these totalitarian fuckers.

If I were tired of employment, I'd be tempted to make a traditional English dish and bring it to my next group potluck. "Oooh, these are tasty, what do you call them?" "Faggots." It would be worth it just to hear the sharp intakes of breath and see the (put-on) outrage. I could even double down: "Are you saying my cultural heritage is offensive?" although of course I'd lose badly by the rules of intersectionality and Victimhood Poker.

[Complete tangent - traditional English terminology for the testicles of an animal is "fries", so you can have "lamb fries", "pig fries" etc. Therefore when someone from an older generation asks you "do you want fries with that?" you might get more than you bargained for.]

[1] All the recent training examples I've seen have had women take a dominant role as problem-solvers, and men nearly exclusively doing the stupid / illegal / morally dubious actions. In the spirit of gender equality, this is me trying to redress the balance.

2018-08-08

BBC shilling for illegal immigration AGAIN

I don't want to claim that this is a trend but they have recent history in this area.

Today Ms Taylor Kate Brown, DC-based BBC reporter temporarily reporting from Mancos CO, reports on the plight of Rosa Sabido who's sheltering from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in the local United Methodist Church who have decided to provide sanctuary to anyone breaking the law as long as it's just related to immigration. Anyone familiar with today's UMC will not be falling off their chairs in surprise.

I searched for the word "legal" in the article, and the only instance relevant to her actions was reported speech from an ICE spokesman:

She entered the country illegally and ignored multiple orders to depart
which, I note, nothing in the article tries to refute apart from a quote from Ms Sabido:
I've been trying all this time to become a citizen... I just tried to do the legal thing and in the end all I get was an order of deportation
The "legal thing" - presumably ignoring the (repeated?) deliberate illegal immigration into the USA which was the root cause of the pending procedures?

At least Ms Brown is honest about the motivation of Ms Sabido:

It is an extreme option and one that extracts a high and potentially lasting price.
Really? What "price" are we talking about? Presumably by Ms Sabido's calculations, it's worthwhile - what benefit might she be anticipating?
Rosa keeps busy but her time in the church is about waiting - waiting for a new Congress, waiting for a potential private bill, waiting for a different president.
Basically, a broad amnesty for people already in the US illegally. How nice to have a substantial fraction of a foreign government working directly for your benefit without any thought of payment - save, perhaps, a future vote in their direction?

However, I find the hints about the church itself of particular interest:

But sheltering Rosa was never the original plan. The church had spoken to a nearby organisation that believed there were a handful of families in the area at risk of deportation, all of whom had lived there for at least 10 years.
"They were our brothers and sisters," he says.
A few people left the church over the decision, but more have joined in support of Rosa, says Paschal.
Aha. I'm sure. So the pastor led the congregation into approving the sanctuary policy in support of a few people that they knew, but it turned out to be available to anyone in the neighborhood. Who knew?

Here's the church. Total congregation: 70. That means fewer than 30 people turning up regularly for services. In a town of 1500 with a total of 5 churches that doesn't look like a particularly successful church, and honestly I don't know how 30 people's contributions are funding a full-time pastor. One assumes that the United Methodist Church - or rather, their national congregational contributions - are covering the deficit. So the pastor doesn't have to have much local buy-in, he gets the $ from the mothership. Nice job, if you can get it.

Anyway, Ms Brown is officially no longer reporting for the BBC:

so this is presumably her swan-song. If she's moving out west in a career growth move, it's almost certainly to California so presumably this article is a final burnishing of pro-illegal-immigration credentials...

2018-07-23

BBC shilling for illegal immigration

I shouldn't be surprised at the BBC any more, but their article My life trapped in an American city was so egregious that I feel it deserves a thorough fisking.

My family and I migrated to Phoenix, Arizona, when I was eight years old. I'm now 22 and a student of engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso.
I'm not a criminal yet in a way I'm treated like one.

Well, your parents arranged to violate the immigration laws of the country in which you find yourself, so it's not surprising that the way you could be treated is analogous to the way that others who have broken the laws are treated. And I can't help but notice that you're not blaming your parents for this situation despite the fact that they explicitly arranged for it to happen.

El Paso has checkpoints around it where immigration officers ask for your documents, documents I obviously don't have. I can't leave the city or I risk deportation. Fortunately, my parents became US residents two years ago but, unfortunately, this isn't the case for my sisters, aged 25 and 18, and me.
When they got their papers they moved back to Phoenix in search of more job opportunities after four years of living here. But I risked putting my college education in jeopardy and getting deported if I crossed the checkpoint and was asked for my documents.

I also wonder whether your parents' immigration status would be jeopardized if USCIS found out that they were actively working to conceal other illegal immigrants - you and your sisters, specifically.

My parents visit me once every three or four months - because of work and other things they can't be here more often. But since they all moved I haven't seen my youngest sister. Her high school graduation was last month and I was unable to go even though everyone in the family was there. And I know neither one of my sisters will be able to attend mine.

On the other hand, you get a gratis US taxpayer funded high school education, and I can't help but notice a complete lack of gratitude for this.

I try not to complain since I'm the first of my parents' children to go to college. I feel very lucky. On the other hand, there are days when I'm just tired of it.
I feel like I don't have rights.

Well, you have all the regular rights of anyone within the United States, citizen or otherwise, as enumerated in the Constitution - in fact, a heck of a lot more than in Mexico. What you mean is, you don't have the right to be treated like a legal resident of the country - because you aren't. That's like me visiting Paris and complaining that I don't have the right to be treated like a French citizen. I'm not a French citizen, there's no prospect of me becoming one, and just because I'm touring the Eiffel Tower doesn't give me any rights to that status.

When they ask me "Why aren't you working? or "Why don't you drive?" I have to make them believe that I'm lazy. So they just stop asking. The truth is I'm unable to work or get a driving licence.
As soon as we crossed the border I had to assimilate myself. I learned English and as I was learning it as a child, our teachers would straight out say "Stop speaking Spanish. You're in America now". A few months later I would win spelling bees - compete against white people who only spoke English - and still win.

You've done a great job of learning the language: fantastic! Just curious: what did you learn about the laws of the country you're living in, and the need to respect them? Because that's also kinda important.

After the 2008 recession my dad, a civil engineer, couldn't find a job in Phoenix and we lost the house we had. So we had to go back to Mexico.
I had such a terrible time, it was probably the worst of my life. I was so Americanised that I didn't fit in. That's what they ask you to do to be accepted in the American culture. I had lost my Mexican identity. We were there for a year and a half before we came back.

Looking at your age (22 now) this looks like: left Mexico at age 8, returned to Mexico at age 12, came back to USA at age 13/14. Pardon me for scenting a certain amount of license with the truth here. At age 8 you'd be speaking fluent Mexican Spanish. After 4 years in the USA you'll certainly have an American accent, but you'll be immersed in an immigrant community and frequently hearing and speaking Spanish. The problem is, you didn't like being back in Mexico because it wasn't as nice as being in the USA - even with all the illegal immigration limitations you document so heavily.

I know so much history about this country, more than average US nationals, and I have so much respect for it seeing as I get myself involved in politics to help improve this country's current state. I involve myself more than citizens, people who should worry more about this nation given that it really is theirs.

I see. So you don't think that, for instance, politics in the USA should be reserved for those who are actually citizens and bear voting rights and responsibilities? In fact, by the sound of it, you consider yourself better informed and more responsible than they are? I can't imagine that generating any resentment at all.

It's difficult to dream in a country that, regardless of everything I've done, which is what most immigrants do, doesn't welcome you even if you've seen it as home for most of your life.

I've found the USA very welcoming to immigrants. But then, I came here by following the rules that the USA had laid down for immigrants. Almost as if Americans don't appreciate those trying to end-run around the rules that others are following. Go figure.

I understand that they have the right to choose to whom they grant citizenship. I just wish they would give me some sort of help. I've given up part of my culture, my roots, to be accepted here. I've already given some of me.
Why can't this country give something back?

What, like a free high school education? A community which is so attractive that you'd rather live there illegally than in your home country legally? Legal status for your older sister and parents? Yes, you've really been hard done over by the USA.

Three semesters from now, when I graduate, I may still be deported. And I may never see my sisters again until they can get papers, which by the looks of it will probably be in 12 more years.

You should go and talk to Indian or Chinese H1-B visa holders and ask them about their timelime to permanent resident (Green Card) status. They'd love to only have to wait 12 years. If you want to see your sisters again, you can always go to Mexico after you graduate. What you're actually saying is that you prefer the economic and educational benefits of living in the USA to seeing your sisters. That's a perfectly rational choice, but it's your choice, and it's a bit much to blame the USA for the situation that you can't have your cake and eat it.

You can't deny that this has affected me. This shouldn't be happening.

Right. Your parents shouldn't have repeatedly violated US immigration law in the first place to put you in this invidious position. And yet that doesn't seem to be your point, for some reason...

Pull your head out of your ass, girl. If you really want to stay in the USA, find an American citizen and marry them. I assume that's how your older sister got her residence status. It may be a sacrifice - you might already be in love with someone who's not a USA citizen - but you have to decide what's most important to you.