Friday, April 04, 2014

I'm Sad Brendan Eich Had to Step Down as Mozilla CEO

Yesterday, Brendan Eich stepped down as Mozilla CEO. If you've been living under a rock, it was because in 2008 he made a donation to the Proposition 8 campaign, which successfully (albiet temporarily) stopped the legality of same-sex marriage in California. There was a large backlash by employees and general internet community members about this.

As an out gay man working in technology, whose last significant post was specifically about the DOMA ruling (before it came out and I got all happy that for once something positive happened to gay rights in America nation-wide), you might think I'm happy about this. After all, Prop 8 was a truly shameful example of exactly how the California state referendum system can be used easily as a way for the majority to trample on the minority, and how easy it is for out-of-state interests to bankroll what should be a purely internal issue based on ideological/religious interests. You might think I'm cheering that mob rule for once worked in my favor.

I'm not.

Yesterday I was conflicted.

Today I think this was wrong and short sighted.

There is no doubt that Brendan is on the wrong side of history. The law has changed, public opinion has changed dramatically since Prop 8 passed, history will prove that Brendan's position was a historical anachronism. I don't even have to know or care why he donated to the Prop 8 campaign to know this.

I know there've been calls to say "Yes, but he hasn't changed his mind!" Quite frankly, I don't know if this is the case and again, I don't care. It will just make him seem even more on the wrong side of history before long. I'm fine with that. (And if you think he's ever going to change his mind after this, you don't know how the human mind works).

What I do know is this:
  • The State of California gives gay employees of Mozilla (a for-profit corporation) the legal rights and remedies that we've fought for if Brendan was to have attempted to discriminate, overtly or surreptitiously, against employees who are in a same-sex marriage.
  • Brendan has not whilst he was CEO done anything to indicate that he would attempt to act in such a way as to do that in the first place. In fact, he's attempted to be as reassuring as he can be.
  • Brendan has not attempted to use his position as CEO to promote personal causes in the political arena that would be contrary to the diversity of the work force (e.g. he's not pulled a Hobby Lobby or Chik-fil-a).
  • Were he to do so either of those things, given how public this has been, the board of directors would be within their rights to do the single thing a board of directors has the legal right and obligation to do in such a situation: fire the CEO.
I imagination a situation where the shoe is on the other foot. I imagine a situation where I was put in charge of a large and diverse technical organization, one where I had already established myself in the technical realm, and employees demanding that I be fired because I was gay. Isn't that what we've been fighting against?

But even more than that, history has shown that the way that people's minds change about these issues is day to day exposure to close associates (friends, family members, co-workers, employees) that are open about their sexuality. Over time, it transforms their views from these people are strange and different to these people are just like me, but gay.

It's why even extremely Christian identifying young adults are gradually becoming in favor of legalized civil same-sex marriage.

What the people rushing for the pitchforks have ignored is that this virtually guarantees that Brendan, and people like him, will choose to self-segregate themselves in the future from highly diverse organizations. And that is exactly what leads to societal mores not changing.

So no, I'm not pleased about this. I think it's just a victory for mob rule as Prop 8 was in the first place. And I had hoped we as gay people, had all moved beyond that.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Charity Appeal for Spare Laptops in London

This isn't my typical type of post, but I couldn't think of a better audience for me to spread the word.

For the last few years I've been a supporter of a fantastic charity called Free The Bears. Started by a visionary named Mary Hutton, Free the Bears fights against abuse of bears throughout Asia. Starting with a successful fight against the horrors that were the Dancing Bears in India, Free the Bears has expanded its work throughout Asia.

Bears are subject to a number of different horrific treatments:

  • They're in restaurants where they're used for Bear Paw Soup;
  • They're kept in cages for the amusement of visitors to hotels and restaurants;
  • They're kept in illegal bear bile farms, where the bears are kept barely alive just long enough to tap their gall bladders for traditional medicine.

Pretty horrific, right?

How Free the Bears Helps

Free the Bears supports animal conservation in Asia in three primary ways:

  1. They work with government agencies to end the illegal wildlife trade;
  2. They have rescue centres in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam for animals confiscated by the authorities who need rehabilitation and medical care;
  3. They support education for the next generation to help break the cycle of violence.

I've been to the rescue facilities in Cambodia and Laos, which are providing fantastic support for bears that had been subject to the most horrific abuse. I've also joined the Luang Prabang-based team on a reconnaissance mission to an illegal bear bile farm in the countryside in Laos (truly one of the most horrific experiences in my life).

So I know first-hand just what fantastic work they do.

Why I'm Reaching Out

Quite simply, they need laptops. Old laptops that you wouldn't use anymore are fantastic for them. Apples are even better (these laptops are seldom if ever connected to the internet, and virus-laden USB keys are the primary file sharing system in rural Cambodia and Laos; they get infected faster than they can get updated virus definitions).

They need them for two reasons. First, they have field workers joining conservation teams that need some type of computing power with them. Second, they set up classroom education programs and equip the kids with laptops.

So if you have any older (particularly Apple) laptops lying around your company or house (including iPads) anywhere in SE England, please reach out. They have a team leaving the UK for Cambodia and Laos in May and the more hardware we can put in their suitcases the better. I'll coordinate everything at OpenGamma HQ and send as much as we can on the next trip.

I can't imagine that my readership lacks a few old laptops here in London that can be re-used for a fantastic charity!

They are also registered as a UK charity and can do Gift Aid top-ups on the donations as well!

Just leave a comment below, or email me (kirk at kirk wylie dot com) and hopefully we can get some more hardware going off to help the bears!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Some Thoughts on DOMA

Parenthetical: This is an extended version of a Facebook exchange

Today the US Supreme Court heard arguments in US v. Windsor.

1996: The Passage of DOMA

In 1996, I was attending Berkeley, doing an EECS degree. I lived in perhaps the most liberal place in America: Berkeley is a notorious stereotype for ultra-liberal American town; the Bay Area is famously liberal (key city: San Francisco); California has always been at the frontiers of acceptance and tolerance.

Day to day, as an out gay University student, I didn't really see any impact on my life. Sure, there were places where I wouldn't have gone with a boyfriend. Obviously, I wouldn't have planned a holiday to Arkansas or Mississippi (although would I anyway? Doubtful). But day to day, none of the red state idiocy impacted me.

And then DOMA passed. And all of a sudden I realized that I wasn't living in the bubble I thought I was. I was living in a nation that hated me.

Imagine, if you will, a 20-year-old man, who discovers the following:

  • The most representative institution in his country's government, the House of Representatives, not only votes to ban federal recognition of any marriage he might have, but to express a moral disapproval of homosexuality (seriously; until today's DOMA argument transcripts I hadn't read the House Report; it shocks me in its blatant homophobia even 15 years later)
  • The body of legislature designed to be a check-and-balance on the more populist instincts of the House (the Senate), voted 84% to pass the same legislation.
  • President Clinton signed the bill as fast as he could.

What does this say to a young gay man (already struggling with growing up in a post-AIDS world)? "Your entire federal government hates you and wishes you weren't American."

Fast Forward: 2004

In 2009, I came out on the internet. I expressed then that I moved to the UK because I was in a relationship where I was able to move to the UK based on my relationship with a British citizen, but not vice versa.

When I made that decision, I made one very simple promise to myself: I would never move back to the nation of my birth; the nation where I am a natural born citizen; until there were, at the very least, same sex immigration rights.

I'm still waiting. Paid a lot of taxes to HMRC in the meantime. Employ a lot of people. No sign 'Murica wants me back.

Today's DOMA Transcript

We're in March of 2013. The decision as it's handed down in June may be radically different.

The transcript from today's oral arguments seem to revolve around three major areas:

  1. Does the group of House of Representatives people have standing to appear at all?
  2. Is there a problem with DOMA on federalism issues?
  3. Is there a problem with Section 3 of DOMA on Equal Protection issues?

As a gay man I only care about point #3. To be honest, I really don't care at all about the mental gymnastics required to determine who may be a party, as opposed to an amicus, in a Supreme Court case. I'm sure the court does, I don't.

The federalism angle is great, if it's the best way to get DOMA overturned, which I reckon it is. Any port in a storm, eh?

But this isn't, to me, a rational discussion or debate. It isn't even a pragmatic one ("As long as DOMA gets overturned and there's gay marriage immigration rights I'm happy"). It's an emotional one. The US government in 1996 told me I was a second class citizen and they hated me.

So as an American who's chosen to move elsewhere, move somewhere that the federal government has a non-partisan, free vote, and says "Why the hell wouldn't we just accept gay marriage?", and an American who believes in his nationality of choice so much that he's taken citizenship, I ask you: why should I accept some second-tier decision? Why should I accept a situation where I am constantly thinking "Well, the legislative and executive branches would send me to a desert island if they could"?

I accept the US judicial process. I accept it takes time.

What I will never accept is that the nation of my birth takes great pains to tell me, repeatedly, that I am not welcome to return.

I will never be happy until the Supreme Court takes on the Equal Protection arguments in both the Prop 8 and DOMA cases and actually issues a ruling.

And I really hope that it doesn't, to paraphrase Justice Sotomayor, take 60 years of the Supreme Court choosing inaction (as it did in inter-racial marriage) to allow the issue to "perk" sic. Because if the Supreme Court is calling out miscegenation laws as its finest hour of jurisprudence, there're some problems.


Justices Scalia and Thomas will, no matter what, write a scathingly homophobic opinion on both the Prop 8 and DOMA decisions. Because nobody has yet impeached them.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

June Public Appearances Follow-Up

As astute readers are no doubt aware, I made two public appearances in London in June. I said at the time that slides and video would appear after, and they're finally up!

London New Finance Panel

This one was videoed, but there were no slides. Here it is!

HNLondon Presentation

Here's the video:

Kirk Wylie - My First Startup Was A Failure from HN London on Vimeo.

You may find it useful to have the slides to follow along with, so here they are as well!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Public Appearances: 26/27 June, 2012

While I realise that I haven't been posting often (most often on the OpenGamma Blog when I am), and while this is very late notice, there are a couple of public appearances for me coming up in the next couple of days.

London New Finance Panel

Tonight in the City will be the London New Finance FinTech Pitch Night. After the pitch sessions (and I'm looking forward to those quite a bit) there will be a panel: "How do you get a FinTech startup off the ground?" Both Eddie George and I thought the OpenGamma experience might be pretty relevant to the audience, and I'm now on the panel tonight.

Hacker News London Meetup

Tomorrow (27 June 2012) in the Silicon Roundabout area is the monthly Hacker News London meetup. I'm giving one of the presentations, titled "My First Startup Was A Failure." If you're interested in my life before moving to London, this is going to be a pretty good session.

Many of my Faithful Readers will know that I co-founded my first startup at the ripe old age of 23, called Radik Software. There's virtually no evidence online (except for LinkedIn) that this company ever existed, and I've not really spoken about it publicly at all. That's going to change, as I'm going to go through the myriad of mistakes and errors that we made, and how I'm avoiding them this time around.

Slides and video for this talk will be available afterwards and I'll post them to the blog, but if you want to see it in person, there's still availability at the meetup!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Location Sensitive Posts: Do It Right, Or Don't Do It At All

When I posted that, I was at home. I live in Wandsworth (post code: SW18) in London; Camden (post code: N1) is 8 miles away according to Google Maps. To be very clear, I was nowhere near Camden at the time I posted that. (at least not as a Londoner would know it).

On my way home from work, Facebook somehow decided in a different post that I was in South Kensington (post code: SW7), even though I never crossed the river, going straight from OpenGamma HQ to Wandsworth and staying the entire time south of the river.

This is a problem.

No, You Can't Turn It Off

I'm running an iPhone 4S with iOS 5 running the most recent Facebook iOS update. Everything is as far up to date as you can possibly get.

I've tried to turn off location-sensitive Facebook updates. I've tried under Settings/Facebook. I've tried in the Facebook application. There appears to be no way that I (an otherwise relatively computer savvy individual) can figure out to turn it off.

Twitter lets you geo-encode a tweet. You can turn it on, you can turn it off. You can change your defaults and change a particular tweet (usually I tweet geo-encoded off, sometimes I turn it on for a location-sensitive post). You can take a look at where Twitter thinks you are, and if it's off, you can turn it off again. There's no such option for Facebook.

Why This Matters

In London, a distance of 8 miles is the other end of town. It's so far given our geography that it beggars the mind that if I claimed that I was at home, but some computer verified me as being in Camden, that this would not be an acceptable fudge the way that a distinction like Southwark/Lambeth, or Westminster/Kensington might be. I might as well be in Paris.

What I've noticed is that as geo-location gets better and better, people start assuming that the technology must be correct. Part of this is surely the CSI-culture that Hollywood has given us, telling us that computers are never infallible, and that all answers are on the other end of an infallible evidentiary chain. But part of this is that these days people probably do lie more than computers.

Which is why I'm so annoyed at Facebook's failures in this respect. If I tell someone (a friend; a family member; my significant other) that I'm at home watching Glee, and they see a Facebook update that says that I'm in Camden, one of the following will happen:

  • They will think I'm lying and am actually at an Amy Winehouse memorial concert;
  • They will think I'm probably telling the truth, but in the back of their mind think I might be lying and am shopping for Doc Martins;
  • They will 100% know that I'm telling the truth, and immediately blame Facebook's bad software engineering.

Which do you think is the most likely?

Worse off, imagine that we're talking about something where there are Serious Stakes on the line: a divorce ("you claim you were home watching Glee but your phone claims you were in Camden visiting your mistress"); a criminal trial ("you claim you were home watching Glee but your phone claims you were stabbing someone to death in Camden"); a terrorist investigation ("you claim you were home watching Glee but your phone claims you were making a bomb in Camden"). As technology advances, can you even doubt one of those will happen on a regular basis? Do you think the people evaluating the technology are going to ask things like "how accurate was the GPS receiver?" or "how was the coordinate-to-placename database compiled?"

We Owe It To The Humans

As a software engineer, please let me ask for the following code of conduct to prevail:

  • If you enable location-aware anything, make it obvious to turn it off, both as a default, and as a one-off action, before and after the location is determined;
  • Never imply more sensitivity than your entire system (hardware, software, and databases) are capable of;
  • Until and unless you have run your location system past a local in a particular region, don't enable it.

If we all follow these three maxims, we'll not repeat Facebook iOS's current failures putting me in Camden against my will.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Multi-Device Sync in iMessage

So faithful readers will know that I was a big Kik Messenger fan,, and used it to handle keeping in touch with world + dog given my nearly insane transatlantic flight schedule.

I decided, however, to give up the Android experience (keep meaning to blog about that) and use my old iPhone 3GS as my US phone, and my new (on its way) iPhone 4S as my UK phone. This, plus my iPad 2 (whose SIM I change in the plane in between London and New York), means that I can hopefully get my multi-device sync on and communicate with the vast majority of people that I SMS/IM to, who all have iOS devices.

However, I upgraded both my iPad and my iPhone to iOS 5, and iMessage wasn't synchronizing properly. Apparently this, the killer feature in iMessage (and the only one that's superior to Kik thus far in my experimentation), doesn't work out of the box. You have to change your phone settings to enable it.

  1. Go to Settings > iMessage
  2. Select "Receive At":
  3. Make sure at least one Email is set (and is set on any other iOS device you have), and then choose "Caller ID":
  4. Pick the email address you want to use (and make sure it's the same on all iOS devices):

And then you're in business! Shame they didn't make it default to this...