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From the latest hacktivist scare-post:
"Let's call this the 'hacker madness' strategy. Using it, the
prosecution portrays actions taken by someone using a computer as
more dangerous or scary than they actually are by highlighting the
digital tools used to a nontechnical or even technophobic judge."
So ignorance of computers causes irrational fears in government and court. Is that everybody's point, "hacker" community? Are we on the same page that your grief is that government doesn't understand you?
What about the flipside? Paranoia in the hacker community about government and courts also comes from ignorance of how government and the law works. We fear that which we do not understand, do we not? Are IT workers not human? Are you, yourself, not human? Then are you not prone to the same faults? Because I have never, in my life, heard one single person in the tech community admit that they could have any faults at all, except for I, myself. The point of view that "all hackers are good; all government is evil" is the most monumentally unexamined assumption on the Internet, possibly in history.
What is the difference between an "Anon" on Reddit, Slashdot, or 4chan railing against the "evil government" and a fundamentalist Evangelical Christian bigot railing against the "evil gays"?
None. Both positions are bigotry formed from ignorance and paranoia.
So we have government officials dismissing you as "twentysomethings who haven't talked to the opposite sex in five or six years" who might go "nihilist" on the US government.
Here's the other end of the name-calling: "Restore the Fourth" Current discussions there include calling Hayden a terrorist, threats to take weapons to the streets in a revolution, and of course, the inevitable "1984!!!" comparison. There, the name-calling goes both ways. And you, hacktivists, started it!
You know what? I see more truth to what Hayden's saying there than I see to anything any "hacktivist" has said about government this year! Doesn't make him right. It does make him better informed about you than you are of him.
To solve this ignorance, you can't stay in your basement. You have to log off, stand up, put one foot in front of the other, and go outside. Volunteer at the campaign office of your chosen candidate instead of trying to rig the election from your computer. Hang out at the courthouse and watch a few trials - they're open to the public. Consider temping at a few government contractor jobs, like Snowden only without the attempted treason part. If you must stay at home, at least flip on C-SPAN. And you can't just watch for five minutes and zone out with the typical 21st-century mosquito attention span; you have to pay attention and appreciate what they are trying to do. Those people on TV are making your government day after day. If you forgot about them, don't be surprised when they forget about you.
Instead, there's this Vice story from DefCon: Vast majority of hackers respond that they would NOT work for the NSA. That's too bad; such a person is exactly the kind we should want working in the NSA. Somebody who would be more proactive in guarding civil rights, while more efficiently filtering the information we need from the information we don't need. But it's so much easier to stand outside and complain than it is to go inside and fix it.
If there is a gap between the hacker community and government, whose fault is it for not being good ambassadors?
While some politicians force us to see things only in terms of un-mendable divisions, we have to acknowledge that hacktivists do exactly the same thing.
I see what it is. Some people want to blame all their problems on the government. And the problems are even largely imaginary. Are you in solitary confinement? Are you being tortured? Right now, this minute, as you read this? Is there a telescreen and a Big Brother poster in your room with you now? Are you being controlled by a giant, Fascist, omnipotent dystopia? No, likely as not, you're clean, well-fed, extremely comfortable by world-average standards, and are reading this post leisurely over some electronic device that most of the world only yet dreams of being able to afford.
Stop blaming the government. The government is YOU. The United States was founded by people who wanted to solve this democracy problem once and for all, and did everything within their mortal power to set up a system by which the people could govern themselves. If it's off course now, it's off course because the people LET it get off course.
If you're paranoid and ignorant of government, then you cannot run it effectively. It takes informed, rational people to make informed, rational decisions about managing their own government. No, the government did not "get like this." You all LET the government get like this, when you were too busy playing. Generations of people who did not want the responsibility of being informed and educated about their government let it drive over a cliff, and now you're all demanding that "somebody do something about it"... while you go back to playing.
I'll say it again: If you're worried about a dystopian, militarized, Nazi government turning on its citizens, then you have to say the following words over and over again: "Cut defense." But to do that, you also have to quit screaming tizzies every time a bomb kills three people at a marathon. Trust me, dozens of countries all over the world both have less militarized defense and fewer mass killing incidents. Why do you think that is?
In other words, you have to understand that the government is not this mythical dragon with magic powers. You need to understand how government works. You are not entitled to your opinion about government, until you can state an informed opinion.
Because here it is, when the Justice Department was going after the NSA for overstepping its bounds in 2009. And that's a follow-up to the initial revelation about NSA domestic spying back in 2008. Why, yes, even the same facts that were supposedly "leaked" this summer by Edward the Lying Snowjob:
"According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called "transactional" data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns."
Gee, it doesn't sound like anything was "leaked" at all, if it was common news back in 2008.
In fact, it was George W. Bush who signed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008 - an amendment to FISA - into law, which greatly broadened the scope of domestic data the NSA could search.
Why yes, the story of telecommunications companies cooperating with the NSA for domestic surveillance even had its own "whistleblower" at AT&T.
Wait, let's go back even further to 2005, Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts, says headline. Gee, I can't imagine how this story wasn't plastered on the front page of every tech news site back then. And those of us who pay attention remember there was a small blip on the radar in 2006 - the exposure of "Room 641A", the so-called "black room" where federal surveillance of citizens happened within AT&T's infrastructure.
As opposed to the never-ending shitstorm of Snowdenoia this year, these stories of NSA domestic spying from 2005 to 2009 got a collective reaction of about one and a half yawns from the tech and Internet communities.
Where was your mighty outrage then, O Anonymous?
Cat got your tongue?
I'll tell you exactly where your mighty outrage was. Obama would be just taking office in 2009, inheriting a bunch of problems from Bush, therefore it was too soon to blame it all on Obama.
It would have to wait until an admitted Ron Paul contributor hatched a plot to dodge through some hoops to get close to US Intel agencies long enough to pretend that he had access to "secrets," then stage a grandstanding "leak" to "expose" this big "secret" of NSA domestic surveillance. Just in time for the summer of 2013; Wrong Paul lost the election (again!), and Libertarians have to choke down the prospect of a second Obama term.
Too bad, so sad, Libertards! I don't know what you people don't understand about the word "election," but you're just going to have to face the fact that not every democratic president has a convenient smoking intern to use to hang him with in his second term.
In the meantime, the war on liberals and democrats (or all non-Paultards, for that matter) within the tech community is one of the most disgraceful, disgusting, and heinous acts of hypocrisy I've ever witnessed in my life. It has now gotten to where you can't even breathe free in your own hometown Linux user's group without kissing Libertarian ass.
Don't be fooled, kids! These monsters do not speak for Free and Open Source Software! They are bullies throwing a collective fit because their little bully politics games didn't work. Free and Open Source Software is the penultimate product of the most liberal, democratic, socialistic process ever organized in human history. It will be here long after petty pants-wetters have moved on to the next impressionable culture.
Update With perfect timing, The Atlantic prints Could the Government Get a Search Warrant for Your Thoughts? That's right folks, you heard it: You should literally get a tin-foil hat now. They're fashionable! They're hip!
Backstory: The summer of our Snowden-noia has been something I've been railing against, well, all summer. But I just got reminded this morning of another reality check in our collective paranoia about government surveillance: We leak more data about ourselves than the NSA could harvest on their best day.
Case in point: This page. That's a page that harvests open security cameras on the Internet and dumps them all there for public view. Now the cameras come through at random, six to a page. You can also hit 'next' to get six more. As you surf through the feeds, you'll no doubt notice that there's several cameras pointed at baby cribs.
Don't worry, the guy who threw this together has posted on Reddit that he is aware of the problem and is trying to remove the baby monitors from the feed. But this just makes a point: Were these parents aware that they're broadcasting their sleeping children live to the world? Also, there could be hundreds, if not thousands, of feeds from cameras all over the world. What can you even do about that? Notify each parent one by one?
In fact, most of us violate our own privacy through simple sloppy carelessness so much that the government couldn't even keep up. It's the same thing with hacker-paranoia on a day-to-day basis: thousands of people (including security personnel) waste time trying to guard against Hollywood ninja-hackers and then forget to warn Gladys in reception not to put the network password on a big ol' Postit at her desk visible from the window.
The human factor. Whenever you're worrying about security exposure, the first thing you should be worrying about is the human error within your own walls. Why should a thief waste time with sophisticated safe-cracking techniques if all they have to do is just go rattling doorknobs until they find one that isn't locked?
That's just what many thieves, in fact, do. Identity thieves work this way, too. All you have to do is keep asking people for their personal data until you find somebody stupid enough to give it to you. And YES, some people really are that stupid!
The NSA doesn't have to tap your phone or read your email to find out where you are or what you're doing. You just told them where you are when you tweeted your visit to Starbucks this morning. And now you're wondering whether your own cameras at home are running. What about your laptop cam? What about the security cams at work pointed at you right now?
Am I finally making you paranoid about the right thing? Good! Quit wasting time worrying about NSA goblins and focus on not inviting the whole world to watch your sleeping baby.
Why are we talking about this again? Didn't we just do this? Let me repeat it again:
It doesn't matter how much data you collect.
What matters is having the eyeballs to read that data.
Apparently this simple, simple point is too hard for anybody but me to understand.
Look, if Johnny collects every streaming minutes of data on all 7 billion humans on planet Earth, and for every hour's worth of surveillance Johnny collects, it takes three hours to watch it, analyze it, research it, and decide whether it's important or not, how many staff members will Johnny have to hire just to keep up with the day?
That is correct, Johnny will have to hire three times as many people as exist right now.
But here comes summer, when thousands of Cheeto-encrusted bong rats suddenly have a lot of free time. And since there don't seem to be any new-released blockbuster video games to soak up that time this month, the next best thing for them to do for fun is scream and panic about nothing.
Scream! Freak! Even the EFF, which is getting way too #Occupy for my tastes lately Spaz! Gurk! And heebie-jeebies!
Who asked the US and UK governments to do this? Oh, United States and United Kingdom citizens, of course.
Remember, you wanted the government to keep you safe from the terrorists. Well, in a shocking development, it turns out that terrorists are, in fact, human beings who just up and decide to do bad stuff all on their own, without warning anybody. So to watch terrorists, they have to watch you.
Not that it does any good.
Me, I'd just as soon end all intelligence and antiterrorist programs of any government. They don't do shit. They're a black hole for money to disappear down. And the overblown danger is minuscule. The largest terrorist attack on US soil, 9/11, only scored 2,996 fatalities. In that same year, 42,196 US citizens died in..... traffic accidents. Every surveillance agent could go be a public-service designated taxi driver and save more lives, and it'd be cheaper on the budget too.
But it just isn't sexy to get worked up and worried about traffic accidents, is it?
No, it's more fun to imagine comic-book villains hatching dastardly plots against the US and UK, because they hate you for your freedom, see, and then turn around and get worked up even more because the people you told to do something about it are trying to do something about it.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where all the problems in the world come from. Quit getting your reality from comic books and watch how fast you start making better decisions at that ballot box.
Update A pretty fantastic post-mortem on the media fiasco that has been "PRISMgate" over on Daily Banter... and yes, this whole kaka-storm has made some strange bedfellows of mine. I even found myself not loathing Techcrunch for a half a minute.
But it's provided the inspiration for a satire, which it is your civic duty to spread and evangelize, citizen.
I know I certainly didn't see this story get nearly enough exposure: Robert Rose of the ambitious (to say the least) private enterprise space program SpaceX says he uses Linux software throughout its technical base. In fact, he was a Slackware slackie as far back as 1994 (hardcore former Slackware bros represent!) Hey, he even quotes Fred Brooks!
Putting aside my considerable skepticism at the SpaceX project's feasibility, I think it's a notch in Linux's belt to be so thoroughly trusted with space hardware. And a heck of a lot more notable than a sticker on a racecar (yes, I'll never get tired of beating up con artists, even when said cons have moved on to fake cancer schemes).
And now a digression. If all you came here for was the SpaceX story, adios!
I came upon this month-old news by way of this hours-old post comparing the Linux kernel favorably to the moon landing in terms of notable human achievements. Well, yeah, I do agree that Linux and the moon-landing at least belong in the same top-ten.
But I would raise the following points:
#1 The initial space program did a lot to shape our current computer industry. Inventions born out of necessity in reaching the moon later came down to Earth to power our desktops and smartphones. So really, Linux (and Unix and all software) at least has some debt of gratitude to the space programs of the past.
#2 When people are grousing that "we don't do big things anymore", they're talking about the United States. Linux was started by a Finnish programmer; most of worldwide Linux adoption as well as Linux development has happened outside the US. Here, watch what comes up when I Google "government adopts Linux" in quotes:
Notice anyone big missing from the party?
What US-based Linux adoption there has been has mostly been the product of corporations that are also multinational. There's no Yankee Doodle playing when Linux boots, bub.
Sure, we know that other countries are going on into the Jetsons age while the US will stay in the Flintstones era. We figured that out when we started learning feet and pounds and quarts in school. Or when we compare our Internet speeds with our international peers. Or, heck, when we see pictures of infrastructure in European plus-sign-flagged countries while we're lucky if we can drive a whole truck over an American bridge.
We got into the space race in the first place because of Commie paranoia. I sometimes wish the US would catch the same fever over Netherlands Socialism paranoia, because, by God, that would be somebody to beat!
Anyway, Linux in space, yay for the computer geeks of all nations. In spite of Microsoft... an AMERICAN software corporation.
Hey, stereotypically-enraged Internet mob! Pardon me, if you could put down your pitchforks and torches for a minute and direct your attention this way? I am about to write the first post on the Internet about CISPA that is not alarmist, panicky, sensationalist, or populist. Instead, we're going to take a look at what's really going on behind the scenes, examining the government not as some mythical hobgoblin, but the way it really works when people clock in in the morning.
Try it. I know you won't accept it, but try it just to give it a whirl.
TL;DR: I DO NOT SUPPORT CISPA. I DO NOT OPPOSE CISPA. It just DOESN'T MATTER.
What does CISPA do, exactly?
It would allow for the sharing of Internet traffic information between the U.S. government and technology and manufacturing companies. No, really, that's it in a nutshell! No new data will be collected. Corporations already have data about you. The government already has data about you. This would just open up a slightly wider pipe between the two.
Here's the PDF draft of the bill itself. Note that it only specifies classified intelligence. At the root, this will make it so that classified intelligence isn't so restricted on who can read it. It will not restrict Joe Public's access to web porn and LOLcats.
Why it doesn't make a difference: Washington Post peeks under the hood of government
Let me introduce you to a very important study and report by the Washington Post from a couple years back, which didn't get nearly the exposure it deserves: A hidden world, growing beyond control, about what an overwhelmed behemoth our security intelligence infrastructure is.
It's a 7-page article, a long read, and nobody has any business having an opinion about CISPA until they've read and fully absorbed every jot and tittle of it. If you don't have the time to read it, you don't have the time to scream about CISPA online.
Some choice quotes:
"Every day across the United States, 854,000 civil servants, military personnel and private contractors with top-secret security clearances are scanned into offices protected by electromagnetic locks, retinal cameras and fortified walls that eavesdropping equipment cannot penetrate."
" The U.S. intelligence budget is vast, publicly announced last year as $75 billion, 21/2 times the size it was on Sept. 10, 2001. But the figure doesn't include many military activities or domestic counterterrorism programs."
"Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications. The NSA sorts a fraction of those into 70 separate databases. The same problem bedevils every other intelligence agency, none of which have enough analysts and translators for all this work."
"Leiter spends much of his day flipping among four computer monitors lined up on his desk. Six hard drives sit at his feet. The data flow is enormous, with dozens of databases feeding separate computer networks that cannot interact with one another."
"When hired, a typical analyst knows very little about the priority countries - Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan - and is not fluent in their languages. Still, the number of intelligence reports they produce on these key countries is overwhelming, say current and former intelligence officials who try to cull them every day. The ODNI doesn't know exactly how many reports are issued each year, but in the process of trying to find out, the chief of analysis discovered 60 classified analytic Web sites still in operation that were supposed to have been closed down for lack of usefulness. 'Like a zombie, it keeps on living' is how one official describes the sites."
"Two years later, Custer, now head of the Army's intelligence school at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., still gets red-faced recalling that day, which reminds him of his frustration with Washington's bureaucracy. "Who has the mission of reducing redundancy and ensuring everybody doesn't gravitate to the lowest-hanging fruit?" he said. "Who orchestrates what is produced so that everybody doesn't produce the same thing?"
He's hardly the only one irritated. In a secure office in Washington, a senior intelligence officer was dealing with his own frustration. Seated at his computer, he began scrolling through some of the classified information he is expected to read every day: CIA World Intelligence Review, WIRe-CIA, Spot Intelligence Report, Daily Intelligence Summary, Weekly Intelligence Forecast, Weekly Warning Forecast, IC Terrorist Threat Assessments, NCTC Terrorism Dispatch, NCTC Spotlight . . ."
Do you know what CISPA is going to actually do? I can tell you what CISPA is going to do. CISPA will put another email in that inbox. It will put another report on that desk. It will add another redundant redundancy into the redundant system.
A recent, practical example: The Boston bombers
This story recently came up that Russian intelligence warned the FBI about the Boston bombers. And yet, if you read the text, there's disagreeing comments from government employees at all levels: "Yes they did." "No they didn't." "I saw that but I thought it was that other guy's job." Even more mind--blowing, is the headline Boston Bombing Suspect's Name Was in US Terrorism Databases!
What if CISPA had been in place? It probably wouldn't have helped much. Another stack of papers would have gotten shuffled around without getting read. Maybe it would have put the right dot on the right map. If it had, doubtless three other things that demanded attention would have been ignored instead.
Call it "Penguin Pete's Law of Surveillance": It doesn't matter how much data you collect. What matters is having the eyeballs to read that data.
Now in this case, doesn't it seem kind of freaky that the Department of Homeland Security knew about a threat, the FBI didn't, and neither organization acted on it anyway? Furthermore, there were restrictions in place between the FBI and the DHS being able to tell one another "Hey, here's a radical guy that may do something squirrely - keep an eye on him." Wouldn't you think they'd be able to just do that?
I've worked in government. Yes, it's that bad.
During my time in the California Conservation Corps, it was part of my contract to be loaned out to other state agencies. Lucky me, I got the warehouse spot for a state hospital. In that warehouse (which was the size of a Walmart by itself), at least two whole isles of shelving had nothing but forms on them. Yes, that was part of my job was to just issue forms.
There were actual scenarios where some state employee would have to fill out a form, take it to their department head, who would fill out a companion form and get it stamped and send two copies back to the first employee, who would then be granted permission to come to my warehouse and get... (*drum roll*) ANOTHER BOX OF FORMS! After they signed my form and I signed their form, of course. And this was just for the state hospital. There were no security clearances involved.
A small dive into United States intelligence agencies
Want to fully explore US intelligence agencies?
Sure thing. How many lifetimes do you have?
Here's the Wiki category, dive right in. Be sure to check out all the subcategories and the sub-subcategories.
There's the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, and the Office of Intelligence Support. There's the National Intelligence Board, the National Intelligence Coordination Center, and the National Intelligence Council.
And the National Counterterrorism Center, the CIA's Counterterrorism Center (yes, they're different), and the CIA's Counterterrorist Intelligence Center. And don't forget the FBI Counterterrorism Division, which is completely different from the FBI National Security Branch, the US Treasury's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
There's the Bureau of Intelligence and Research... Wait, within that branch, there's the Office of Research, the External Research Staff, the Current Intelligence Staff, and the Publications Staff, which probably sends more stacks of reports to desks. There's offices for analysis of each major continent. There's the Office of Intelligence Operations, the Office of Intelligence Resources, and the Office of Intelligence Coordination, all headed by (say it in one breath) the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence Policy and Coordination.
I might be going out on a limb here, but maybe some of these departments and agencies and offices are starting to sound a little bit redundant?
Believe it or not, we haven't mentioned the Defense Intelligence Agency yet, which has the Defense Intelligence Analysis Center, which is apparently competing with the oxymoronically-named George Bush Center for Intelligence.
We haven't started on the United States Department of Homeland Security, which, of course, has its own galaxy of sub-departments, including the Federal Protective Service, which deploys bomb-sniffing dogs - hey, we could have used some of those in Boston! The US DHS also now controls U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; now you would think that ICE would have no responsibilities beyond keeping people from jumping the fence and making sure nobody brings quarantined fruit through the airport, right? But they also have divisions for cyber-crimes and national security, too.
And don't forget, every branch of the US military has its OWN intelligence and counterterrorism departments as well!
We're just getting started. We could fill ten more blog posts this size with more US intelligence divisions and still just be getting started. Last year, I blogged on Mind--Blown about Intellipedia, A US government intelligence Wiki that mere mortals aren't allowed to view. And there's more than one US government intelligence wiki out there - and they're all classified!
So there you have it. Think of an idea to solve the problem, any idea at all. They've tried them all.
If you think this red tape is bad, you should see the story about the 13,712 empty bank accounts.
What should Obama really do about CISPA?
It appears Obama is aware of the problem of intel-bloat; he recently cut 8% from US spy agency budgets. I'm sure he'll get blasted for it - I can hear it on FOX news now: "At a time when the Boston bombing shows we need more intelligence gathering, blah blah blah."
Honestly, if I were his adviser, I'd probably just shrug about now and say "What the hell, pass it. It might not hurt." That's the best you can hope for. It's redundant on top of half a zillion intelligence and surveillance acts and bills and laws we've already had. But it will not affect a damned, damned thing.
Around here, we Linux geeks tend to focus on technology, its place in society, and why monopolizing it into the iron fists of a few global corporations is a Bad Thing. The reasoning is that technology is central to all of our lives, cradle to grave, school to office, and we dare not allow a tiny oligarchy of billionaires to control everything that technology does.
What could be more dastardly than monopolizing the world's computers? Monopolizing the world's food.
Monsanto, in the emerging science of biotechnology, has become the Microsoft of food. Here in Iowa (a state with no small interest in agriculture) I get to witness the struggle firsthand; Monsanto commercials aimed at farmers dominate much of local television. Very few non-Monsanto companies manage to get equal billing.
The parallels between Microsoft and Monsanto are plain. Just the Wikipedia page on legal actions involving Monsanto reaps bold examples: Monsanto has filed patents on numerous genetically engineered specimens. They have filed suit against 145 individual U.S. farmers for violating those patents. The Public Patent Foundation has blown the whistle on some Monsanto patents. The U.S. Justice Department in 2009 has also opened investigations against Monsanto for anti-trust; that's still pending. And the legal battles outside North America are even more telling; stories abound of farmers being driven out of business, markets controlled, and even child labor. Oh, and Monsanto is a political lobbyist - a really, really big one - in the US, UK, and continental Europe. And corporate food patents, litigation, and fallout damage has been the subject of at least one documentary name of Food, Inc.
Oh, and one more parallel between Microsoft and Monsanto - Bill Gates has a huge financial stake in both.
In battling for technology freedom, we are permitted to not take ourselves quite so seriously. At the most, renegade programmers battling corporate dictatorships brings to mind cyberpunk "hacker wars". But when it comes to food, all silliness ends. This is a world with 925 million starving people, and the last thing we need is billionaires suing people for planting corn and soy without their permission.
Now, don't get me wrong: Does this mean that GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) are a bad thing? Of course not! This isn't about resisting scientific progress in agriculture - I am in fact hugely enthusiastic about biotechnology and genetic research and think that, if anything, it's not progressing nearly fast enough. Genetic modification of an organism in a laboratory is simply the sped-up version of the same thing nature has been doing for millions of years. Just so we're clear, I'll be first in line for genetically engineered chow, medical treatments derived from gene therapy, or adopting a four-assed monkey.
It's the part where we put a barcode on every DNA strand and let a few corporate dictators literally control the building blocks of life and the necessities for survival that our troubles begin.
On the other hand, I'm also not signing up allegiance with the fruitbat conspiracy theory nuts. So when Googling Monsanto news, I'm careful to dodge Infowars and NaturalNews and other sites that are more about Illuminati conspiracies and "science = bad" reasoning than the actual problem. And of course, I'm trying to avoid OWS and TEDx moonie-loonies on sheer principle.
So, I'm trying my best to screen out the cornflakes. But the bottom line is that we should be as concerned, if not more concerned, for a Monsanto world monopoly as we should about a Microsoft world monopoly. Hopefully cornflake-free further reading:
The Monsanto Monopoly
Antitrust advocate: ‘Long-term food monopoly’ if Supreme Court favors Monsanto
Monsanto's Earnings Nearly Double as They Create a Farming Monopoly
Who Owns Seeds? Monsanto Says Not You
I almost couldn't post this, because I've been in such an agonized tizzy, screaming myself to sleep at night as my white-knuckled fingers clench the sweat-stained bedsheets all about THE QUESTION.
THE QUESTION will not go away. It is front-paged on every news website, puked onto the table of every TV pundit debate, screamed from the headlines of every newspaper.
"ZOMG HOW DO WE GET MORE WOMEN INTO PROGRAMMING????????"
And science careers? And tech jobs? And STEM careers? And web development? And math? And database administration? And... and... where the wimmin at, dog?
None of these people realize that every time they ask this question, they drive women further away from programming. If there were a smidgen of interest in actually creating a balanced society, we would just make everything equally accessible and then let women make up their own minds what to do.
You know what question we never see? "How do we get more men into needlepoint?"
And nursing careers? And cake decorating? And ballet? Hey, guys, how would you feel if you had a mass of screaming harpies chasing you around with a camera and microphone demanding to know, right this minute, why you, sir, are not actively learning how to warp and weft a 10x20 penelope canvas? Would you be more open to getting into needlepoint then? Or would you be annoyed at being singled out for your gender? That's how women respond (and I know several myself) to "How do we get more women into programming?"
The answer is trumpeted to be, of course, that you must have this culture around needlepoint that is discouraging you from getting into it. Stigma. As soon as women find out you're a male needlepointer, they yell condescending remarks: "Oh, you petit-point pretty well for a man!" Flip that in reverse for women and programming. See how dumb that is? If women are only staying out of programming because of stigma, then men are likewise kept out of needlepoint. It's a female-dominated hobby, you see, so that would stop you from simply downloading patterns and buying thread at Hobby Lobby, because you'd be afraid of the clerks snickering at you behind their fist.
Not that it does. There are male needlepointers, there are female programmers. Ask either one of them what it's like in their culture, and they'll both respond that yes, the other gender does tend to dominate the industry, and yes, they do run into some sexism, but oh well, they deal with it and hope for a more enlightened tomorrow.
Yeah... but why? Why don't the genders show an even 50/50 split across all occupations and interests? Why are soap operas mainly watched by women; why are comic books mainly read by men? And yes, that last question is beginning to make the rounds; the media, endlessly helpless to distinguish one stereotypical pursuit from another, has leaped from asking why women aren't in STEM careers to why aren't there more women "geeks" and from there downhill to why aren't there more female Batman fans.
Oh, wait, they've tried to solve that one. Batman - boy-bits + girl-bits = Batgirl!
But wait, it didn't work. Women still don't read comic books!
Perhaps because they sensed that this "Batgirl" person (and Supergirl, Wonder Woman, etc.) was a shallow attempt at marketing to them by taking the same thing that's popular with boys and painting it pink. There's jillions of female superheros, and they are all male superhero spinoffs with a sex change. You may have Batgirl, but Batgirl drawn and written and sold by men. Oh no! Here it comes again! "How do we get more women to be comic artists?????"
No, really, guys, listen to this: What if we make needlepoint patterns available that picture monster trucks, football games, Playboy models, and Transformers robots? Will that get you into needlepoint?
Oh, it won't? Oh, you hurt my feelings.
(Sidebar: By the way, yes, there's female comic book and cartoon fans. In the manga and anime section, because in Japan, they have special categories of just manga and anime by females for females about females, and if there's male characters and more than two of them in one plot, you can bet the guys will be in each others' pants by issue #3. And if they aren't, the female slash fiction base will correct that oversight. Manga and anime enjoys a 50/50 gender appeal, because it started out from the first place being segregated into genres.)
Why aren't more women into programming?
I have the answer. My answer is so good, so definitive, that I should charge you for it.
The answer is "money."
No, not that the money is bad (although it is bad, but it's perceived as good). It's that every boy who grows up pursuing a tech career has dollar signs in his eyes. Because of Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, Larry Ellison, and Mark Zuckerberg. These guys are trumpeted from the front pages of Forbes, Time, and Business Week. The message is "there's big money in programming!" True, most of the programmers end up slinging Java in some god-forbidden corporate data warehouse for $12/hr. and end up getting laid off in five years when their job gets outsourced, but when they started out, they were aiming for Redmond.
(Another sidebar: Yeah, yeah, I know, there's one guy out there I have to address: You're only motivated to program because you enjoy making computers do nifty stuff. It's the love of the art. And that's why you have a job that has nothing to do with technology, do nothing to promote your success amongst your technology peers, and if somebody offered you fistfulls of cash to do anything computer-related, even consult or deliver a lecture at a conference, you'd push it away and be insulted, amiright? Yeah, you do it for the "love of the game" - you and every NFL player on their way to cash their 8-figure check.)
No, the question we should be asking is "How come there's so many guys in programming?" Because programming, even in 2013, is still seen as an at least stable and potentially lucrative career. And (WARNING: We have reached the part of this essay that will draw screams of "sexism":) guys feel more pressure to make money than gals. Because how many women want to date a broke man?
That's it. There are a lot of men in programming, because programming is seen as a potentially successful career, and men, naturally competitive, want those wads of cash very badly. You want more women in programming? Get rid of the money and the potential for success on a huge scale, men will abandon the field like toddlers fleeing the canned vegetable aisle, and Glamour, Vogue, and Cosmopolitan will start carrying ads: "Learn freelance programming at home! It's the perfect 'mommy-job'!"
Here, I'll prove it:
Presenting a book I've held dear on my shelves for a very long time, waiting for its day in the sun. The book is Introduction to Business Data Processing, by Lawrence S. Orilia, published McGraw Hill, copyright 1979. Important date to remember as we browse through it.
Sure, in 2013 you might think that there's a gulf between "data processing" and "programming", but in 1979, there wasn't one. The book is chock full of code in FORTRAN, COBOL, and BASIC. With flowcharts, endless fields of flowcharts, because that's how data processing was done back then. Check that link I made to Google books - while they don't have a scanned copy, note the keywords in "common terms and phrases". Yes, they go into line numbers and loops and statements. The students who learned from this textbook weren't modern data entry clerks. They would become programmers, because advanced software didn't exist at the time and it was expected that you would know coding in order to just use a computer.
Thirty years later, even Tim O'Reilly can't say "everybody who uses a computer should learn a little programming" without a lynch mob battering down his door.
What this book is also chock full of is women sitting at computer terminals. All the way through the book. Females operate the computers, men enjoy lofty positions in suits and ties striding around with clipboards, supervising the women.
You see, computing in this era was still largely seen as office-type work. Before computers it was all typewriters, adding machines, and filing cabinets, which mostly women did in the position of "secretary", so computers at the time were deemed to be glorified typewriters, adding machines, and filing cabinets combined - hence "women's work". Mostly it was the kind of work you wouldn't catch a guy dead doing. Remember, we're not talking the world of 3D rendered graphics and Internet entrepreneurs, we're talking punched cards and magnetic tape.
That's right, women were the first "hackers"!
His tie is wide enough to land a plane on, so he must be in charge. No way is he getting his hands dirty with this grubby computer stuff.
And yes, these queens of code could actually use a command line! You know, that thing I get screamed at all the time by the troll chorus for being an "elitist geek" for advocating?
Just look how confident and happy she is! Little did she know that in 30 years, plugging in your own external storage media correctly on the first try would be beyond 95% of either gender without a frantic call to tech support.
But modern macho men, your final humiliation is yet at hand. So only big, strong, logical men can handle all this computer stuff, ehhhh? Well back then, computer operation as an occupation had to be sold down, not up, so they had to include this charming anecdote:
It says on page 252: "A computer has become the means of communication between Lana, a four-year-old chimpanzee, and the rest of the world. Two years ago, she started to use the symbols on a computer keyboard to talk to her keepers."
"You see that, ladies?" said 1979 businessmen desperate for technicians, "These things are so simple, even a monkey can learn to use them, so you have no excuse!" A female monkey.
Remember this was 1979. Nobody had made billions of dollars in software yet. In hardware, yes, certainly, IBM, Honeywell, DEC, and whatnot, were very big deals. So the manufacture of computers was a male-dominated field, but just like typewriters, once we make 'em, let the women type on 'em. Also take note that the word "hacker" had yet to enter public parlance. There was no mythologized archetype of the cyberpunk anti-hero.
So if programming computers wasn't glamorous yet, and software tycoons who would become world-class billionaires were years in the future yet, and operating a computer was so easy that a monkey could do it, then what was there to attract men? Nothing. Yet the world needed programmers. So they had to hire women, and lo, there were the women running all the big, hot, dusty machines.
Now, I don't have time to write a whole book here and you don't have time to read it. I've laid out all the tools you need to build your own answers, because you're all bright people. Think about men, women, jobs and hobbies, and which ones are male-dominated, female-dominated, or 50/50. Think about history. Think about motivation, and the options people have in society.
I hope you have all learned something, not just about the history of computing, but about the genders, society, and the way the public perceptions relate to all of them.
But above all, most of all, more than my dear blood, I hope I never have to hear this stupid, stupid, stupid question ever again.
Follow-Up: I misplaced the bookmark when I was writing this, but I found it again. Here's Stanford research about how programming changed from a female to male profession. Now, sociologically, they cite our old boogey, gender-bias. Subtle gender-bias covered up by personality testing and prerequisite courses. Yes, but saying "we don't have female programmers because personalities are screened for introverts and college records are screened for math credits" does nothing but move the question out to "Where are all the introverted math geek women?" There are introverted math geek women out there. But anyway, it's another point of view worth sharing here.
Update: How many times does YOUR head hit the desk when reading about the latest gender-tech scandal, known as "dongle-gate"?
Update 4/10/13: As I continue to get more responses to this, here's a link somebody found on Fogcreek from 2 years ago: “The Computer Girls” from the April 1967 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. Once again, somebody else noticed that women used to dominate the computer field, but then answers "why did they leave?" with the knee-jerk "teh sexism!" Always, always, always.
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It isn't often that I feel the need to amplify Stallman's words; he's usually a little extreme-left for my tastes. But this is one of those times when he reminds me why I still count him as a visionary - perhaps even still ahead of his time.
In this Reuters interview, he addresses the problem of corporations that are "too big to fail" and proposes that monopoly laws be strengthened, a return to Glass-Steagall-type regulation, and a progressive tax on corporations, where the bigger the company, the more of a percentage they pay.
Wonderful, wonderful sense, it would fix just about every economic problem we have in this country. And you can hang your hopes on seeing unicorns fly before it actually happens.
See, all us geeks sat through all those science fiction epics and made it to the 2000s, and all that ended up coming true was the dystopian government, only that government is actually an oligarchy of corporations. We didn't get 1984, but we did get $1983.99.
There's a problem with this: We can't vote for corporations. We can't elect new CEOs and board of directors. We can vote all we want to for government, but when both the US and the UK can find a corporation guilty of antitrust and are together powerless to reign them in, then that government isn't a government anymore. Corporations have taken their place. When a corporation can recklessly and ruthlessly pillage the economy and then hold a nation hostage demanding that it be bailed out because it's too big to fail, what is left for us to control with our votes? When a corporation is legally considered a person and then we do not hold that entity to morals and the laws of the land, then what else have we created but a psychopath?
In Europe for many centuries, churches and governments together caused many problems when they got too rich and powerful for their own good at the same time they were getting too chummy together. We started the United States with the idea of abolishing kings and popes. But what do we do about CEOs who have riches and power beyond the dreams of even kings, melded with the government?