The Naming of Hackers

The Naming of Hackers – a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a hacker has THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

Today I received a very polite email from a citizen of a non-Western country asking that about:credits be updated to put the components of his and his colleagues names in the order customary in that country (family name first), while still sorting them by family name with the others. I use scripts to manage additions to about:credits, and the page is generated from a CSV file which contains fields for “family name” and “first/common/Christian name”. The system does indeed currently make some Western assumptions about the order of names, and so fulfilling his request requires changing it significantly.

Before I rewrite it, I want to make sure I rewrite it only once. I am aware of falsehoods programmers believe about names, and I’m glad that we don’t have to make a system which copes with every edge case. We are not planning to serve, for example, people without names or people whose names use non-Unicode characters. But we do want to serve people with one name, as I know of hackers in that category.

Here is my design. To test it: can anyone think of a hacker (on any project, not just Mozilla) whose name would not fit into this scheme?

Fields:

  • Name: name as they wish it to be printed
  • Sortkey: part of the name that they wish to be used for sorting; would be the component corresponding to “family name” in almost all cases

The charset is Unicode. The sort is by base Latin letter. If a submission does not contain details of how they want their name to be sorted, I will make my best guess based on my knowledge of customs in their part of the world.

The other policies I have been implementing for about:credits (on which comments are also welcome) are:

  • Names normally written in non-Latin letters should be in romanized form. (This is a common practice, makes them easier for everyone to read, and no-one has objected thusfar.)
  • I include a family name, plus a person’s common/first/Christian name, that they normally use. I am Gervase Richard Markham, but most people know me as Gerv, so my entry would say Gerv Markham or Gervase Markham, at my option. But if someone’s name is John Mark Smith, and he is known as “John Mark”, then I would list him as John Mark Smith.
  • I use initial caps for consistent presentation.
  • I don’t include initials – names are either present in full or not present.
  • Unless someone officially only has one name (e.g. on their passport), I ask for at least two so that names are as distinctive as possible (knowing that names are not unique in general).

Defeating the Peter Principle

A Freakonomics blog post which covered the Peter Principle (see Question 3) got me thinking. The Peter Principle is explained as follows:

Dr. Peter is one of our favorites. His book The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong came out in 1969. He first expressed the principle that bears his name like this: “In a hierarchy, each employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” Once an employee reaches his level of incompetence, his superiors will recommend no further promotion, leading to “Peter’s Corollary”: “Every post tends to be occupied by an employee incompetent to execute its duties.”

How do you defeat the Peter Principle in your organization? How about this: as a condition of promotion, any employee agrees that they may decide to (or be asked to) return to their previous job, but keep the pay and benefits package from the higher-level job.

The idea here is to remove the financial disincentive for the employee to admit they aren’t doing well and say “OK, fair enough, this job isn’t for me; let me go back to what I’m good at”. If they are ever promoted again, their original salary or salary scale is used to determine their new pay, so they can’t yoyo up and down, collecting a compensation bump each time. One may want to impose a minimum term in the new job, and/or require management permission and agreement for the step-down. This would mean some lower-level employees cost the company more than others, but it might well be a whole lot cheaper than having the wrong person doing the wrong management job, badly. It could perhaps be seen as the price management agrees to pay for promoting the wrong person in the first place.

What Is ‘Sexism’?

A remarkable entry from Merriam Webster’s dictionary (which I found linked from the Wikipedia article):

sex·ism noun \ˈsek-ˌsi-zəm\

1 : prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women

2 : behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

The first definition has been in use for a long time, and is (I would suggest) widely recognized. But note the second one. According to Merriam Webster, any expressed positive view whatsoever, however limited, of any historically-recognised (a.k.a. ‘stereotypical’) gender-based social roles is, by definition, sexist.

Have I understood that correctly?

Successful Microsoft Partnerships

Nokia Plan B led me to “In memoriam: Microsoft’s previous strategic mobile partners“. This got me thinking: can anyone name a company which fits the following criteria?

  • Announced a major partnership with Microsoft
  • Took all or most of the actions or joint actions specified in the initial press release
  • Produced benefits to long-term shareholders as a result

Or to put it another way: can anyone name a Microsoft partnership which turned out to be a good thing for the company concerned? (This is not a rhetorical question; I am not implying there have never been any.)

“Partnership” means working together on products, not just reselling Windows.

Confessions Of A Public Speaker

At FOSDEM, I was given a copy of “Confessions of a Public Speaker” by Scott Berkun (thanks, Josette!).

It’s an story-filled ramble through the life of someone who talks for a living. It was an entertaining read, although it could perhaps have done with more summarizing of the material, as when I reached the end I realised that I would have to re-read it if I wanted to make a list of things to change about my own speaking style and habits. But I was very pleased to see him call the Logitech Cordless Presenter, which I own[0], “the Cadillac of remote controls”. The man has good taste.

Oh, and there’s a story from me in the “You can’t do worse than this” section :-)

[0] OK, OK. On gandalf’s recommendation.

“Content? What’s That?” Awards

I visited a site linked from Slashdot today, which was an article (press release) about a new “open” mobile phone. The thing that amazed me was the small percentage of the initially-visible browser window devoted to actual useful content. 9.08%, by my calculations. And I have a 1280×1024 screen.

Earth Times website with lots of ads

So I hereby inaugurate the 2010 “Content? What’s That?” Awards. Find a website page with as small a percentage of the page devoted to content as possible, post a screenshot on your blog with the content highlighted in red, as above, and the percentage calculated, and link to it here. Lowest percentage wins.

Rules:

  • Sites must be family-friendly.
  • Page must actually have some content – those typo-squatted all-ads domains don’t count.
  • Analysis is made on the first visible page section only. Yes, people have different display sizes. In case of dispute, I’ll make a final judgement on my display.
  • Please post screenshots stripped of browser chrome. You may also want to shrink them 50%.
  • Headlines count as content. Metadata, intra-site links and ads do not.
  • Whitespace does not count as content. Exception: whitespace within content, e.g. paragraph breaks and space were a headline would go if it were longer, do count.
  • Yes, almost no website would ever score 100%.That’s OK.

Let’s see if this works :-)

My Pledge Sends Mapper to Antigua

When Google launched their Map Maker community mapping tool last year, they included loads of Caribbean islands. This led Ed Parsons (chief Google Maps guy) to make a comment at State of the Map (the OSM conference) in Limerick that he was sad there wasn’t any fieldwork involved.

This off-the-cuff suggestion, and a spirit of friendly competition, caused me to set up a pledge on the PledgeBank website. People pledged to improve OpenStreetMap’s coverage in the Caribbean themselves by tracing over available aerial imagery, and to donate £10 each towards sending one lucky mapper on just such a field trip.

74 people, including Ed Parsons himself, signed the pledge, raising £740 to fund the expedition. One name from the pledgelist was chosen by a verifiable random process – Steve Chilton from Middlesex University, UK, who happens to be a professional cartographer. So he gets to go to Antigua and add road names and points of interest to the map :-)

As a great man once said, “I love it when a plan comes together” :-)

Information, Free To Good Home

Via an old post on BoingBoing, I just came across the AirPower wiki, which lists the locations of power outlets in airports. Very handy. However, the wiki software used doesn’t require logins, so it has been vandalised hundreds of times over the past few years.

I’ve restored one of the last known good versions, but I don’t expect it to last. Does anyone know anywhere appropriate that this information could live where it would be protected, loved, cherished and maintained?

I Speak English

facebook.pngNo, Facebook, I do not speak “English (UK)”. I speak English, the language of England (the clue is in the name). Please add the awkward qualifying verbal appendages to the description of your own, derivative dialect. :-P

Twitter Problems

I may be the last to notice this, but: Twitter – the web command line?

However, I can’t try these things out because I’ve forgotten my twitter password. I ask for a password reset email but one never arrives. I’ve been trying for the past six weeks, so it’s not just Twitter flakiness. My help ticket has gone unanswered.

I know I definitely have an account and I know I’m using the right email address.

Anyone any ideas? What do I do?