The Bully In Me

One of the more insidious problems with raising a kid is that it forces you to revisit past sins, however small. I recently read a collection of stories from people relating encounters they’d had with bullies from their past. It gave me pause as I considered what lessons I need to teach my son about bullying in preparation for the awful arena of the pre-teen and teenage years.

I don’t think bullying is as black and white as it’s often portrayed. At least, for me it wasn’t. I was a geek growing up and in the grand scheme of things was certainly on the receiving end more often then I dished it out. But dish it out I did on at least a couple of occasions; just because you’re getting picked on doesn’t mean you’re immune to being a prick in your own right.  One in particular has always haunted me.

It was in junior high, when a group of us were sitting at a table in the cafeteria talking about who-knows-what. At one point the conversation turned to one of our classmates – a girl our class had deemed unattractive as part of that horrible typecasting that goes on among adolescents . And, riff’ing on this, I laughingly said something to the effect of, “yeah, she’s so ugly!”

… and turned to find her standing right behind me.

It was exactly awful as it sounds. 30-some years later I still cringe at the memory.  But unlike the hollywood version of this little drama there is no climactic confrontation. That moment is the one and only memory I have of this girl. Any recollection of how she may have reacted is hidden in a fog of ringing-in-the-ears shame.  Nor do I know what happened to her in the days and years that followed. All I have is that hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach that says I’m responsible for an un-righted wrong. It is a visceral thing that, fortunately, rarely surfaces.  But I’m reminded of it one way or another every year or two, and still react the same way.

I don’t expect to get the opportunity to apologize, much as I would welcome it. Nor am I even sure what it would mean.  We are both such different people.  Two strangers reconciling over the actions of their much-younger doppelgangers?  It would be awkward and weird.  Uncomfortable at best, but healing for at least one of us and hopefully both.

I suppose that’s the lesson for my son. These inevitable missteps in life are part of growing up. You will hurt people who don’t deserve it.  It’s how you own those moments that are important.  Realize your errors as quickly as possible. Learn from them and do your best to fix things.  You may never get the chance to later.  And when all is said and done your mistakes are a part of you for the rest of your life, for better or worse.

Career Advice

‘Found myself commenting on a Facebook post asking for what career advice people would give to college grads looking at careers in web development.  I took a quick stab at it, and was surprised enough at how well it came out I thought I’d post it here:

If you have the opportunity to work in Silicon Valley at any point in your career, jump at it. It’s not for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be forever, but the insight you gain from experiencing the penultimate hi-tech scene first-hand will serve you well the rest of your career. You’ll make great connections, and you’ll develop a sense of what it takes to be a real “entrepreneur” in the purest sense of the word. And, for better or worse, the tech world is divided into those who have done this and those who haven’t.

Startups get harder the older you get. If you see yourself as an entrepreneur, do it now before you’re weighed down by wife, kids, mortgage, and everything else that makes risky career choices untenable. (which is not to say you can’t do a startup when you’re older, but it’s infinitely easier if you’ve got some experience under your belt.)

If you’re going to do a startup, ask yourself, “what will I take away from this if it fails? Will I be okay with that… will it have been worth it?” Ideally you’ll get enough value from working with people you respect, creating a product you’re passionate about, or getting in-the-trenches education in technology and business that if your startup fails for any of the 100′s of reasons startups fail you’ll still walk away happy. Or at least not angry at what a waste it all was.

Even for developers who do nothing but look at code all day, the most valuable thing in the world are people. Hone your people skills, hone your interview skills, develop your professional network. People, people, people.

I (you’re prospective boss/co-worker/report) don’t give a shit what your degree is in. What I care about is how well you do your job, and how well you enable me to do mine. And for that you will need to understand what I do. So learn graphic design, and programming, and how to balance books, and how to interview people, and sell customers, and quality test products, and UX design, and product management, and the dozens of other things that go into creating web product. Many of these skills will be difficult and you may suck at them. But that’s why this is important: appreciate why they’re hard and why you need other people to do these things for you. It will make you a better employee, a better cofounder, and a better person.

A Proposal For Enacting Firearms Accountability

In the U.S. there are 235 million adults (http://goo.gl/BqL7o)
… who collectively own 270M guns (http://goo.gl/NPUhX)
… 57 million of whom suffer from a diagnosable mental illness (http://goo.gl/RTpU)

I posted the above on my Facebook page shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting. With so much heated and distorted rhetoric around guns, I wanted to capture a few core statistics that were both inarguable and representative of the magnitude of the issue.  Simply put, guns permeate every aspect of our society.  1.2 guns per adult. 4.7 guns per mentally-ill adult. 38 guns per [census] block.  They are everywhere.

Firearms are the most powerful and lethal commodity you can buy in the U.S.  But the right to wield power – any power – must always be tempered with a corresponding obligation to insure that power is used wisely.  Failure to recognize this has tragic consequences, as we’ve all seen.  In the context of gun rights, this obligation manifests as the background checks, licensing, and waiting periods that go along with purchasing a gun.  But these vary from state-to-state and, more importantly, only apply to new gun purchases.  Once a weapon enters the private sector, these checks disappear.  Not only are there no checks, there is no record keeping.  This lack of accountability is staggeringly irresponsible.  Not only does it make assigning blame for crimes difficult after the fact, it fails to establish how important we, as a society, believe proper handling and storage of firearms to be. Thus, I humbly propose the following …

To establish firearm accountability

The Federal government will establish a national firearms registry (“Registry”), with the goal of creating a comprehensive database of all current and future firearms ownership.

All sales and transfers of firearms will be recorded in this database. In effect, this assign an individual name to every gun in circulation.

This database will contain basic contact information for gun owners and identification information for firearms.  Furthermore, for firearms manufactured after enactment of this system, manufacturers will provide ballistic information (e.g. for use in forensic analysis) for each weapon they produce.

Any and all firearms transfers or changes of ownership must be submitted to this registry w/in 15 days of the transaction.

For any crime involving a firearm, the owner of record will be treated as an accessory to the crime.

A network of firearms Disposal Agencies to be established and available to the public. (Nominally comprised of gun manufacturers, wholesale and retail agencies firearms outlets, and law-enforcement agencies).  These Disposal Agencies will be trained and certified in the proper disposal of firearms.

Any unclaimed or unregistered firearms that come to the attention of authorities will be held for 90 days. After this 90 days unclaimed firearms will be disposed of at a Disposal Agency.

To protect firearm owner privacy

Access to the Registry is restricted to:

  • Law-enforcement agents, who may only use the Registry for determining legality of firearms possession. Personal information may _not_ to be released to these agents. I.e. their interaction with this system is restricted to yes-or-no questions of the form, “Does person X own gun Y?”
  • Criminal investigators, who may use the Registry to determine ownership information for firearms and individuals.

Comments and Notes

  • The Registry described above is currently prohibited by the Firearm Owners Protection Act (1986), see historic/legal perspective.
  • Awesome interactive map of per-state gun-control laws.
  • Currently there are 140,000 gun dealers in the U.S.
  • When the 2nd Amendment was penned (1791) 4M people lived in the U.S., which was 10% it’s current size.  I.e. Population density was ~1/10th what it is currently, we had no national militia to speak of, subsistance living was commonplace, and transportation was generally limited to ~30 mi/day travel.
  • Private sales of firearms in Oregon are governed by ORS 166.426, which states sellers “may” use a service (FICS) provided by the State Police to request a background check.  This service does has a per-transaction fee of $10 and requires the recipient of the firearm to be present at the time of the request (which would seem somewhat problematic).  Using this service grants the seller civil immunity for any use of the firearm after the transfer.

 

Freedom of Speech .vs. The Right To Be Heard

“Ender’s Game” is a Hugo-award winning sci-fi novel by Orson Scott Card.  And deservedly so – I loved it, and enjoyed all five of the follow-on novels he wrote in the Ender universe. But Card is also a well-documented opponent of homosexuality and gay marriage – a moral stance that I find abhorrent and hypocritical.  And he’s getting worse as time passes.

The problem is that I became a fan of his work before I knew any of this.  Ender’s Game really is a great book, and there’s an Ender’s Game movie in the works that looks very promising; but for Card’s politics, I’d be eagerly awaiting it’s release.  And I find a part of me wanting to say that as long as he keeps his politics out of his professional life (i.e. his fiction writing), there’s no reason I shouldn’t do just that.  But…  his livelihood and the celebrity that go along with it are what provide the platform from which he preaches.  And I believe those preachings are a destructive force in the world.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and they are free to voice those opinions from whatever platforms they have at their disposal.  But if we disagree with them, and happen to find ourselves directly or indirectly helping to amplify their voice, it is our duty to turn step away.  Thus, it pains me to say that I won’t be going to see Ender’s Game next year.  Or buying any more of Card’s books.  He’s just become too much of an asshole.  Damn it.

Facebook .vs. Blogging

The frequency I post on this blog has really tapered off since I started working at (and using) Facebook.  That makes me a little said.  Evidence would suggest that Facebook has surplanted this space, but the nature of my Facebook posts is tangibly different from what I post here.   My blog has always felt much more introspective and, frankly, rewarding than most of what I put up on Facebook.  My Facebook activity, and that of my friends, leans toward the … “fluffy”.

Anyhow, ‘thinking I might make an effort to refocus on this blog.  We’ll see how it goes …

(Thoughtful musings, if you're lucky)