Friday, May 29, 2009

Amazon pulls Stockholm game

Amazon must have gotten so much negative feedback about the Stockholm syndrome game (reference previous post) that they pulled it. I received the following e-mail regarding my customer service inquiry:

Thanks for contacting with your concern.
The item you referenced is no longer for sale on our site.
Thank you again for your feedback.

It's pretty cool that they respond to feedback.

Amazon game allows practice of sexual abuse

I read on Feministing that Amazon is carrying Stockholm: An Exploration of True Love, a game that allows the player to play the kidnapper who causes his victim to love him by abusing her*. From Feministing:

This includes using poison gas on the victim, sexually assaulting her and using psychological abuse against her in efforts to make her "love" you. Unbelievable.

It should go without saying that Amazon should not support such psychological and sexual abuse of women. The Feministing post encourages people to contact Amazon to tell them it is not acceptable to profit from this kind of thing. I wrote to them and hope you will do the same.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

This new generation of young people...

I am apparently old; I have never been a hugger*. This New York Times article talks about how hugging has become the most common greeting among teenagers, about peer pressure to hug, and how some schools have banned hugging.

* I often have this awkward moment where I feel obligated to hug someone I have not seen in a while but then I realize I don't have to, causing us to both stare over each other's left shoulder for a while...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Unliberated and Unhappy

In an op-ed piece Liberated and Unhappy, Ross Douthat gives his thoughts on a study on the paradox of declining female happiness: as women have more freedom, they are less happy relative to men than they were in the 1960's. Douthat correctly zooms in on motherhood as an issue that makes women's lives difficult: there is still inadequate support for working mothers. However, he chooses to focus on single motherhood as an issue that decreases the happiness of women, suggesting that we should save women from unhappiness by bringing them back under the wing of good ol' patriarchy. He writes:

They should also be able to agree that the steady advance of single motherhood threatens the interests and happiness of women... There’s no necessary reason why feminists and cultural conservatives can’t join forces — in the same way that they made common cause during the pornography wars of the 1980s — behind a social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the “fallen women” of a more patriarchal age.

There are many ways to make women happier; instating social stigma that enforces expectations of responsible patriarchy will not do it. Rather than creating stigma that causes unhappy and unsupportive men to stay with the mothers of their children, society should support these women in raising children alone. One of the reasons working mothers have been increasingly unhappy is the lack of a support network beyond the nuclear family*; perpetuating the cult of the nuclear family to solve the problem of female unhappiness would be missing the point.

* A product of the conservative 1950's, I believe.

Some issues of sensitivity

Since well-meaning people have often made insensitive comments about women and other marginalized groups in the sciences, I have put together an FAQ (Frequently Answered Questions) about some of these issues.

This FAQ is targeted at the men who make up the comfortable majority among computer science graduate students, but all may find it relevant. My experience shows that these questions are highly relevant; if you are skeptical please contact me to discuss.

Q: I make fun of my Canadian friends all the time and they don't mind. Why should making misogynist or homophobic jokes be any different?
A: Making fun of Canadians is different from making fun of women/minorities because 1) it is a two-way thing based on a rivalry rather than historically harmful prejudice and 2) the targets of the jokes are not in a position (either due to having fewer numbers of them or not having as powerful of a voice) to stand up for themselves. Making jokes about the intellectual abilities of women or the personal decisions of homosexuals enters much more sensitive territory--it is inappropriate to speak lightly about reasons for which these sgroups have been oppressed/persecuted . Just as mature graduate students should not tolerate glib comments about the Holocaust or slavery, they should not tolerate misogynist, homophobic, or otherwise culturally insensitive comments.

Q: What would be considered a misogynist or homophobic joke?
A: There are many things people say that should be obviously offensive. For example, "Chores? That's what the women are for." There are also more subtle things that are as harmful: any statement that implicitly suggests it is bad to be a woman/gay/other minority is not appropriate. Examples include: "that's so gay" and "stop being such a woman."

Q: Why should I think twice about coming on to women with whom I work?
A: Your co-workers deserve to have a comfortable working environment free from unwelcomes advances. Everyone should be able to have a professional and productive work life.

Q: What if I just like to hit on girls for fun?
A: If you are making them feel uncomfortable, you should stop--and apologize. If someone else liked to joke by hitting you in a sensitive region every day, you would also like to be able to make them stop. This is not appropriate behavior for a work environment; you should discourage this behavior in others as well.

Q: Then how do I get a girlfriend?
A: Do extracurricular activities--there are many women in other departments and in the city/town where you lives. It is not the responsibility of the women in your department to date you just because you don't meet a lot of women. If you are really in love with someone who works with/near you, be respectful and be careful.

Q: Is it appropriate to check out other students? Is it appropriate to check out students if I am a teaching assistant?
A: Put yourself in the shoes of an employee, at say, Google, where you would find it important to maintain a professional relationship with your coworkers. If you are a TA, pretend you are a group leader responsible for evaluations that lead to promotions, etc. Graduate students should be held to some standards of professionalism.

Q: Why should I care so much about making minorities feel comfortable in my department?
A: It doesn't cost you that much and everyone is better off if smart people can do good work without always being made to feel they don't belong. If you're asking this question, I'm assuming people don't give you a hard time for being who you are--return the favor for everyone else. It does not benefit the field to push out those who may be different. Intolerance of homosexuality drove Alan Turing to his suicide; his death is one of the greatest losses in computer science.

Monday, May 25, 2009

He's a liar; she's a slut

A friend from college who worked on a campaign commented that when people insult a female candidate, they will just call her a slut. I have recently encountered the question of why people insult women (and only women) by denouncing them as promiscuous, so I've been thinking about it a fair amount.

One explanation for why promiscuity in women is so much more abhorred than promiscuity in men the evolutionary one*. The story is that early humans were mostly serially monogamous, women had children by several partners, and their current partners would help take care of the children. For a woman it was bad if their partner was spending time with another woman, because it meant time that the man was not contributing his resources to taking care of her children. For men it was bad if their partner was promiscuous, because then they would not be able to tell when they were contributing their resources to a child they did not father. This would explain why men are terrified of promiscuous women. But according to this explanation only men should be terrified of promiscuous women, so the use of "slut" as a blanket slur suggests the dominance of male preferences reflected in language.

Here are some reasons why people need to stop throwing around the term "slut:"
  1. The use of such a primitive slur against a political candidate suggests they are not taking women seriously. "Slut" is far from a substantive denunciation: a politically inclined person would be embarrassed to put down a male candidate solely by calling him a "prick" or "asshole."
  2. Using the term "slut" as a blanket insult perpetuates the limitation on female sexual freedom. There is not such a stigma around promiscuous men that people insult men by calling them promiscuous.
  3. Even if men are inclined to fear promiscuity in women, this does not mean men are justified in calling women sluts. Men are also naturally inclined to go around naked when it is sufficiently warm, urinate in public, fight other men to the death etc. Last I checked, these behaviors were illegal and not socially acceptable. Fortunately humans are cultured animals; we should take advantage of this quality. Also, many "natural" inclinations are maladaptive with respect to our society and people should just get over them--for instance, xenophobia.
* I don't have a citation for this; I heard this by word of mouth by I trust the sources. I am also often skeptical of these evolutionary fables because they are often highly biased by what people want to believe.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fear of the unknown

Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, wrote this post about how uncertainty increases tendency to worry. From the post:

...researchers at the University of British Columbia studied people who had undergone genetic testing to determine their risk for developing the neurodegenerative disorder known as Huntington’s disease. Those who learned that they had a very high likelihood of developing the condition were happier a year after testing than those who did not learn what their risk was.

Why would we prefer to know the worst than to suspect it? Because when we get bad news we weep for a while, and then get busy making the best of it. We change our behavior, we change our attitudes... But we can’t come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don’t yet know. An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait.

What Gilbert says makes a lot of sense.

Monday, May 18, 2009

OMG Della--gag me now

Note: Since the internet backlash against Della, Dell has toned down the site. An article here.

Always considerate, Dell has designed a totally cute new site/product just for women! Since I primarily look to computers for complementing my accessories, for allowing me to gossip via e-mail, and for helping me sum my caloric intake, I am going to run out of my office screaming "OMG" and purchase one immediately.

View the awful Della website here*. ( abominable, alarming, appalling, atrocious, deplorable, depressing, dire, disgusting, distressing, dreadful, fearful, frightful, ghastly, grody, gross*, gruesome, grungy*, harrowing, hideous, horrendous, horrible, horrific, horrifying, nasty, offensive, raunchy, repulsive, shocking, stinking, synthetic, tough, ugly, unpleasant, unsightly )

Sorry Dell, but being patronizing does not encourage me to buy your products? In fact, if I didn't have work to do I would go home right now and throw my Vostro 200 out of the window? (It's a piece of crap anyway. Plus, it's not pink.)

To make my complaints more specific: 1) the product is poorly marketed with little understanding of its target demographic and 2) the website is patronizing, assuming that women use computers for e-mail and as a looks-enhancing accessory. While I am not against having a "cute" computer, color and size do not provide adequate specification. Not only can women handle having full specification of the memory size and processor speed of a computer, but (gasp!) they may even shop for a computer based on its performance. I mean, when I do learn to use Microsoft Word I'm going to want it to be fast, right?

The good thing is that the sensible women of the internet are already speaking out. Here is a comment from the Tech Tips section:

...This is a load of fluff that only serves to provide insight into how Dell perceives my demographic. Essentially, we women will buy anything if it comes in pink and fits in our purse.

Come on Dell! Treat us like intelligent consumers and not like trained monkeys....

Here is another great comment from the site which sums my attitude as well:


Feministing and Gearlog have good posts about this.

Epic fail!

* Can't have any positive words surrounding the link; otherwise Google might get the wrong idea.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Philip Guo is impersonating me

Search "Philip Guo*" on Google. A stylized overview of how he became me follows**.

PG: I am so much more important than you that I will subsume you on Google. I will show up before you when people search "Jean Yang."
JY: You can't beat me.

Though in regular search he shows up on the second page, by some accounts he shows up earlier in personalized searches. From an e-mail from a mutual friend: "When I search for 'Jean Yang' on my google account, his page comes up second, which surprised me, but then I tried searching for 'Jean Yang' without being signed in, and he's on the second page of results."

* My friend at Stanford who mentors at me.
** In case you are reading this after he has taken it down, his webpage currently says "My name is Philip Guo (also search for me as Jean Yang, Phil Guo, Philip J. Guo, Philip Jia Guo, pgbovine)."

My life is average

I was accidentally at home when they showed my extremely messy apartment. MLIA.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A brief and incorrect history of programming languages

This is quite amusing. From the chronology:

1986 - Brad Cox and Tom Love create Objective-C, announcing "this language has all the memory safety of C combined with all the blazing speed of Smalltalk." Modern historians suspect the two were dyslexic.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek movie

I was somehow peer pressured into seeing the Star Trek movie, which was surprisingly good. It involved sufficient amounts of plot, special effects, and hot actors (Chris Pike as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock). It also involved sufficiently little amounts of weird parts and cheesy romance. On a scale of one to good movie, it is a good movie! (And this coming from someone who is neither a Trekkie nor a movie person!)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Justification for my red-meatless diet

This article, Paying a Price for Loving Read Meat talks about how a study of more than 500,000 Americans that suggests cutting down on red meat can decrease the chance of heart disease and cancer and increase longevity.

CS-related Tom Swifties

Let me know if you have your own!
  • "Languages should have classes and inheritance," she said objectively.
  • "I would like a data structure with O(1) insertion," she said listlessly.
  • "Monads are a pain," she stated.
  • "Mutation is important," she said effectively.
  • "I may have lost all my work," he said noncommitally.
  • "Here are some parentheses," he lisped.
  • "Let's evaluate this," she schemed.
  • "How do I know if my program is correct?" he inquired dynamically.
  • "I wish my number representation could handle this," he said longingly.
  • "I have a seg fault!" she exclaimed freely.
  • "What kind of seeds do you have?" he asked randomly.
  • "Do this while I'm gone," she said imperatively.
  • "We should retrace our steps," he declared logically.
From my friend Joe Zimmerman (as a comment below):
  • "Register allocation is not so hard", she said optimistically.
  • "Remember that the time bounds are only defined over nonnegative integers", she told him discreetly.
  • "Type systems have nothing to do with math!" he exclaimed categorically.
  • "Theorem proving is easy with the right tools", he replied automatically.
  • "I wish there were a way to prevent memory access violations in C", she complained stormily.
  • "What if you just used streams?" she suggested lazily.
  • "My algorithm will always terminate", he decided.
  • "We can fill in the rest of the weights by symmetry", she remarked distantly.
  • "How will you know who I am without asking for my password?" he challenged.
  • "Literate Haskell programs are just easier to work with", she commented prosaically.

Tom Swifties

My friend Eirik told me about Tom Swifties, which are phrases in which a pun links a quote to the manner in which it is spoken. Some excellent examples:
  • "I unclogged the drain with a vacuum cleaner," Tom said succinctly.
  • "I might as well be dead," Tom croaked.
  • "They had to amputate them both at the ankles," Tom said defeatedly.
  • "Who discovered radium?" asked Marie curiously.
  • "I dropped the toothpaste," signaled Tom, crestfallen.
  • "Have I been emasculated?" Tom demanded.
  • "Dat's de end of April," said Tom in dismay.
  • "Here's someone who can't speak!" exclaimed Tom dumbfoundedly.
  • "I'd like chicken soup with matzo balls and gefilte fish," said Tom judiciously.

So this is where gender roles come from

This blog post shows pages from a book from the 1950's (?) celebrating the wonderful differences between boys and girls. I used to think people made this stuff up, but now I see where it comes from. :o
  • Boys are doctors. Girls are nurses.
  • Boys are Presidents. Girls are First Ladies.
  • Boys fix things. Girls need things fixed.
  • Boys can eat. Girls can cook.
  • Boys invent things. Girls use what boys invent.
  • Boys build houses. Girls keep houses.
  • I'm glad you're a girl! I'm glad you're a boy! We need each other.
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