Telepresence Seesaw

I would like a telepresence device which lets people seesaw together over the Internet.

There would be two near-identical devices in different locations. They would be small, roughly the size of a hand. They would be connected to the Internet.

One side of both would be labeled A, the other would be labeled B. The actual labels don’t have to be A and B – they could be the names of two children, or pictures, or sculptures. The important thing is to be consistent on both devices.

One device would know it was A, the other would know it was B. The A device is active on A and passive on B. The B device is active on B and passive on A. On pressing down the active side, the corresponding passive side on the other device would mirror the motion.

The interaction would be strangely trivial and magical at the same time. It could feel sweet or spooky. You don’t even have to know who the other person is! The experience would be like a enchanted toy found in the back of a curio shop in a Twilight Zone episode.

This is a simplified version of my Hand-holding Telepresence Romance Bot idea.

Am I white or White?

The NYT asks: Are African-Americans ‘Black’ or ‘black’?

I capitalize “Black” when I refer to Africans or members of the African diaspora because I am not referring to a color but a singular group, which makes it a proper noun:

proper noun is a noun that identifies a single entity and is used to refer to that entity, such as LondonJupiterSarah, or Microsoft, as distinguished from a common noun, which is a noun that refers to a class of entities (city, planet, person, corporation)

I say African-American when I’m talking heritage, Black when I’m talking about identity and culture. Black music. African-American history. Black speech. African-American families. I would avoid describing a person as Black unless they chose that themself. Otherwise I would default to African-American.

What am I?

First, European or Belgian. Second, American. My father, who was born in a British-occupied part of Africa to a Belgian father and ethnically French mother herself born in a British territory in Africa, categorized himself as European. My mother was born in North Carolina to White parents one generation removed from Germany, fled north for good when she hit 18, and thought of herself as American.

Last, and unavoidably, White, with a capital.

I am not the color white. The dominant color of my skin is pink. Most White people are pink. I have very light patches which are white and tan patches which are reddish or light brown.

I belong to an ethnic group defined by the (repugnant) one-drop rule. This group is unique and distinct. That makes it a proper noun: White.

The NYT again:

So far, most news organizations have declined to capitalize white, generally arguing that it is an identifier of skin color, not shared experience, and that white supremacist groups have adopted that convention. But some scholars say that to write “Black” but not “White” is to give white people a pass on seeing themselves as a race and recognizing all the privileges they get from it.

We White people like to think we are the default. We have no race. It is others who have race.

But Whiteness did not exist before the invention of Blackness. We Europeans made race for our benefit, then assigned it to others. For White people to accept responsibility, we have to accept being racialized. The prison we made holds us too.

The color white symbolizes holiness, purity, virtue. I have no more claim to these than anybody else. There is no reason for me to think I was born into them.

White identity is problematic because only full-bore supremacists like the KKK embrace it explicitly. Oops. As it turns out, small-bore supremacists have it too.

Police unions represent white conservative interests

A good article in Vox on police unions as a regressive force:

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing by now-former Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officer Derek Chauvin, few have been inclined to defend Chauvin or his colleagues who stood by and watched as he suffocated Floyd to death. Few, that is, except Bob Kroll.

In a letter to membership, Kroll — the president of the MPD’s police union — referred to protesters outraged by police brutality as a “terrorist movement” and defended the officers who killed Floyd and were subsequently fired, arguing they were “terminated without due process” and lamenting, “What is not being told is the violent criminal history of George Floyd.” (Floyd had a criminal record, but mostly for nonviolent drug and theft charges.)

Kroll’s statements illustrate a central challenge in American efforts to transform policing: Police unions, the groups that represent police officers, are a powerful force that stands in the way of holding police accountable. 

The military is not allowed to take political stands. The police force is, and does, and its politics are backed up by force.

Remote-first hiring works around racist xenophobes

Yesterday I interviewed candidates in Nigeria, Brazil and Canada for a role in a new engineering team I’m putting together from California. The first two hires are in China and Brazil.

This is a remote-only company. The closest we’re likely to have to an office is meetups at a coworking space for the five of us in the bay area.

Our people are people. I’m not outsourcing to faceless sweatshops of underpaid and exploited workers. The contributors are talent wherever they are, in place. They don’t need to move to Silicon Valley.

Time zone proximity is the new localism.

These are the overlaps where my small team can meet:

4 PM California
8 AM China
7 PM Brazil

7 AM California
10 PM China
11 AM Brazil

I’m writing this at 7 AM, up for a meeting with people in India, California and China.

The difficulty of meeting makes it harder for us to get shit done when we really need to be together at the same time, rather than leaving notes to one another.

I tried to put this team together in only the Americas, aiming for locations which share some part of the work day, but the talent didn’t cooperate. The fancy New York designer flamed out. The whip-smart Chinese designer had her act together.

And of course our Indian contributor has a special angle which is far more valuable than a convenient time zone. His talent matters more.

So we meet 1:1, we leave notes via DM, we connect at the beginnings and ends of our work days. We write long messages to read asynchronously rather than having short conversations in real time. We’re working out new methods. We can do this. Nothing but sweat is stopping us from solving the time zone problem.

The H1B approach makes no sense. Forget getting people to move to the US. Fear of foreigners makes the US a nightmare to do business in.

Mnuchin and the Don are selling to inlanders who think being American makes them better than everybody else, but racist xenophobes can’t touch this. Remote-first teams massively expand the pool of technical talent for companies that can work effectively without being together in the same place or time.

The candidate in Lagos who I talked to yesterday is smart, passionate and a decent communicator, but a little too junior. But the Brazilian who moved to Halifax for a job has 15 years of experience and can work for me without moving again.

Follow the talent. The rest is just project management.

Labor council expels police union

The collective-bargaining process is designed to shield workers from the petty tyrannies of their bosses. But police unions like SPOG deploy the same shield against the public, including workers. From lobbying against basic transparency measures to calling out sick when one of their own is charged with felony murder, unionized cops stoke a debate that might not resolve in their favor. The labor movement isn’t just grappling with the future of police unions. It faces deeper questions about the nature of policing itself. The long history of the fight for safe workplaces and fair wages repeats the same basic conflict. Workers win progress despite bosses — and despite violent state actors, too. The men and women who break up protests might have no place in the labor movement at all.

Seattle-Area Labor Council Expels Cop Union

Privacy Banner Requirements

I’m writing product requirements for the privacy banner in a new web site. The site carries no advertising and does nothing ugly in terms of privacy. It doesn’t even use Google Analytics. On top of this, the banner is pro forma – users don’t care. This should be a five minute project.

I googled around for how sites are supposed to act on clicks in a privacy banner and didn’t find a standard reference for ultra simple cases like this. The best I found is this well-informed but way overpowered guide. I guess each developer needs to go deep and figure it out themself. That’s silly. So, for the sake of sharing with developers looking for the same thing in the future, here is what I have so far.

The formatting is messy because WordPress isn’t the right tool for this. If you see flaws apart from that, let me know and I’ll incorporate them.

1. There must exist a privacy policy. The privacy policy must inform the user that:

a. The site uses analytics to perform tracking within the site.

b. The site uses cookies for session management.

c. They can delete their account in the profile page, once they are signed in.

d. It is not possible to use pages which require authentication if they do not accept cookies.

2. There must exist a terms of service which new users must accept. The terms of service must state that the site cannot be used without cookies.

3. A user must be able to delete their account. There must be a feature to do this on the profile page. Deletion must remove all trace of the user.

4. All pages which require a user to be authenticated should check to see whether the user has previously opted in or out of cookies, and show a cookie warning if not.

5. The cookie warning should be unobtrusive. It should not impair usability for users who see it but choose to ignore it.

6. The cookie warning should:

a. State that the site uses cookies

b. Link to the privacy policy

c. Offer an option to accept cookies

d. Offer an option to reject cookies

7. If the user rejects the cookie warning, cookies should be cleared and links within the page should have a parameter attached to say that there should be no tracking. On loading any view with that parameter in the URL, these same steps should be followed: cookies should be cleared and links within the page should have the parameter appended. However, these rules will not apply to any page which requires authentication, such as a user dashboard.

8. If the user accepts the cookie warning, the cookie banner should be cleared and a cookie should be set to not ask again.

Police Unions

Police unions are not ordinary ones. Ordinary unions have to fear beatings by the police. Police unions not so much.

And police unions are an important part of brutality.

They prevent disciplining officers for brutality. They influence elections to elect pro-brutality politicians, including the 2020 election. When citizens protest police brutality, they beat protesters.

Unions can be regulated. Police unions are a breakable link in the chain of police brutality.

Police unions should be forbidden to defend members against discipline. They should be forbidden to endorse candidates or organize politically.

The problem is policing

It is not possible for the police to not be brutal, capricious, and destructive.

They are a political force chartered through politics. Their paychecks go to ensuring their paychecks. They are accountable only to politicians, and their success is measured in elections. Police killings and brutality are growing because of successful alliances.

Anti-Black politics works for many candidates. White voters go to the polls for brutality. White fear gets officials elected.

The problem is not overpolicing, it is policing itself. Recent years have seen an explosion of protest against police brutality and repression. Among activists, journalists and politicians, the conversation about how to respond and improve policing has focused on accountability, diversity, training, and community relations. Unfortunately, these reforms will not produce results, either alone or in combination. The core of the problem must be addressed: the nature of modern policing itself.

The corruption of the police is deep and broad. It is on the order of corruption in the former Soviet Union. I can’t imagine successful reforms.

I wonder whether any municipality can seal itself off from the consensus form of policing in order to develop a new one that is not toxic. Could my city, Oakland, or my state, California? Would it have to happen at the national level?