Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Do We Really Need To Think That Hard About Bigotry?

I like to tell jokes. I don't do a lot of setup-punchline material, but I do toss off quips and cracks whenever I can--which is a good thing when it comes to workplace productivity:
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The point is, I love humor and levity, and consider it an integral part of a good workplace.

However, I don't believe there's a good reason for making racist, sexist, homophobic, or religions jokes at work. The tricky part is defining what crosses over the line.

A recent post on Kotaku highlighted a blog post from a game developer who accused a former employer of tolerating a wide array of off-color jokes:
Read more ›

According to the post, which has since been removed (on advice of legal counsel, I'll bet), the blogger (who is African American) brought up what he felt were instances of racist, sexist, and homophobic speech, only to be told that he was being too sensitive.

He alleges that he was even told (in a sentence that made my blood run cold), "Let me tell you, it's ok to make jokes about slavery because that's over."

I don't know the truth of the allegations, though as Kotaku points out, the company in question actively celebrated its "brogrammer" culture. But I do want to address the issue of "being too sensitive."

The folks who wield that phrase as a weapon are trying to get away with a false dichotomy--the implication is that if you judge humor based on whether or not people get offended, you're attacking free speech, and giving the easily offended unwarranted veto power. Their preferred alternative, wrapped in the First Amendment, is to allow any speech, and to ask people to "lighten up."

That's BS. Just because it's hard to draw distinctions between free speech and being an asshole doesn't mean we shouldn't try. And just because we get it wrong sometimes doesn't mean the effort isn't worth it.

I think a lot about company culture, and I have yet to find an example where bigotry helped improve the bottom line.

Here are some simple principles that you should always follow:

1) Try not to hurt people.
2) Err on the side of caution
3) Listen to people, even when you disagree

If someone at my company told me another employee's jokes were making him or her uncomfortable, I'd ask for an explanation. Then I'd ask the joker to stop.

Does it really need to be any more complicated?

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Best Time of Day For 10 Key Activities

When it comes to doing cognitive work most adults perform best in the late morning.

Most people are more easily distracted from noon to 4 p.m.

Alertness tends to slump after eating a meal. Sleepiness also tends to peak around 2 p.m., making that a good time for a nap.

For most adults, problems that require open-ended thinking are often best tackled in the evening when they are tired.

Sending emails early in the day helps beat the inbox rush; 6 a.m. messages are most likely to be read.

Reading Twitter at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. can start your day on a cheery note.

If you want your tweets to be re-tweeted, post them between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Posts to Facebook at about 8 p.m. tend to get the most "likes."

Physical performance is usually best, and the risk of injury least, from about 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

To keep from packing on pounds, experts say, limit food consumption to your hours of peak activity.

Summarized from the Wall Street Journal story, "Your Body's Best Time for Everything."

32 Things that remind me of Kobe

The effects of the passage of time on grief are both good and bad.

The good is that the more time passes since the tragedy, the less you think of it.

The bad is that the more time passes, the less you remember the good things.

While being reminded of Kobe caused a twinge of sadness every time, sometimes I worry that not being reminded of Kobe is even worse.

That's why I've been keeping a list of the random parts of my daily life that remind me of her:
  1. The kitchen table (which she would sit under, making it inconvenient to push in the chairs)
  2. Coming in the front door (she'd come running out to greet us)
  3. Exiting the front door (she'd come running over to go outside)
  4. The chimes on on the front door (which are forever associated with Kobe's clicking paws)
  5. Lying in bed (and waiting for Kobe's clicking walk)
  6. Lying in bed with the kids (and waiting for Kobe to come over and paw me to get let out)
  7. Washing dishes in the kitchen (she would come over and sit in the middle of the kitchen floor, lying on her side)
  8. Any time everyone was in the bathroom (she would come in because she didn't want to get left out)
  9. The way she would want to jump in the car any time we had suitcases or bags, for fear of being left behind)
  10. The way she would lie in the middle of the floor in the worst possible locations
  11. Kobe's corner of the couch
  12. The top of the couch where she would crouch, which still bears her claw marks
  13. Any time I look over at the couch and catch a flash of black (Marissa's head; the iPad case) and for an instant I think it's her
  14. The sound of her claws running on our porch and the cobblestones
  15. The front door, where we kept her leash and collar
  16. The sound of the front gate, which I heard every time I took her for a walk
  17. The strange urge to go outside for a walk at certain times of day (8 AM, 7 PM)
  18. Every time I talk with TK in the morning, which I've done while walking Kobe for over a decade
  19. The front porch in front of our home office, where Kobe would lie down while outside
  20. Kobe turning the corner towards the back yard, which she would do a dead run, pretty much every time, often accompanied by squealing children
  21. The fact that Kobe would use the holes in our fence to go roaming in the neighbors' yards. She'd take a long time to come back when called, and have a satisfied and unrepentant look when she returned.
  22. Brushing my teeth, then looking over at Kobe sleeping in the hallway
  23. For Alisha: Sitting in her chair, reading, and then reaching down instinctively to pet Kobe.
  24. Kobe greeting Alisha every morning when she got up, usually with a downward-facing-dog and a grunt.
  25. Kobe's absurdly loud yawns, which ended in a high-pitched squeal.
  26. Driving past Ohlone School, where I would take her for off-leash romps once the construction was done.
  27. The sound of Kobe's paws scratching on the glass of the front door to come in.
  28. The way she would loom over me in bed, breathing on my face, to slyly wake me up.
  29. Any time food falls on the floor, I realize I actually need to pick it up.
  30. Any time we have gristle, fat, and other table treats left over.  Now we just have to throw them away.
  31. Turning on the heat and getting ready for bed--I automatically glance around to make sure that Kobe's inside (a precaution we started taking after she was attacked by raccoons one night).
  32. When I make Marissa's sandwiches for her school lunch, I always cut off the crusts.  Now I find myself going to where Kobe's bowl used to be, then remembering and going to the garbage can.
By writing down all these reminders, I hope I'll have a key to continue unlocking many years of memories, even years or decades in the future.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Star Trek: TNG: Liberal or Conservative?

One of the most interesting insights I've read in a while comes in this Grantland celebration of the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which points out that the show is simultaneously conservative and liberal:
Conservatives — think in Jonathan Haidt–ish terms here — value tradition, authority, and group identity; liberals value tolerance, fairness, and care. Or whatever; you can draw the distinctions however you'd like. The point is, The Next Generation depicts a strict military hierarchy acting with great moral clarity in the name of civilization, all anti-postmodern, "conservative" stuff — but the values they're so conservatively clear about are ideals like peace and open-mindedness and squishy concern for the perspectives of different cultures. "Liberal" ideals, in other words. You could say, roughly, that the Enterprise crew is conservative as a matter of method and liberal as a matter of goal.
TNG has generally gotten a reputation for political correctness, largely because the very prim and proper Captain Picard cuts a very different figure from the green-space-babe-seducing cowboy that was Captain Kirk.  Yet this analysis rings true for me.  Unlike the later moral ambiguity of Deep Space Nine, the crew of the Enterprise-D were clearly the good guys, and didn't have any reason to be plagued by a guilty conscience.

In many ways, it's a novel solution to our partisan society--achieving liberal goals using conservative methods.

In this reading, Barack Obama is the cautious Picard and Joe Biden is more like the freewheeling Kirk.  I'll leave it to the reader to cast Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.