Felix Rambles

Another step to taking back control

Gender, sexuality and history

17 January 2019 — Felix Pleşoianu

It's easy to believe in the myth (born from Victorian arrogance) of linear and infinite progress that's all but inevitable. A comforting one, as I was pointing out elsewhere, because if progress is like that it means we don't have to lift a finger for it to happen, and possibly make mistakes that ruin lives. No risk of having to be responsible for bad things on the way there.

This myth most noticeably comes up when it gets to matters of gender and sexuality. We love to think ourselves progressive in those regards. Too bad solid historical evidence proves again and again that in the 19th and especially 20th century western civilization in fact regressed massively.

We have for instance evidence of gay marriage in the year 100 AD, and I mean in Christian Europe, not some distant exotic culture. Even more recently, after it was banned, the secret history of same-sex marriage continued. People of the same sex would even disguise themselves as groom and bride, not so much in the hope they'd fool anyone, but more likely to provide the minister and atendees with plausible deniability. Even while that happened, for the longest time men were still unafraid to show their affection to each other through physical contact... until they no longer were.

And while certain things became, when not forbidden, at least taboo, a wave of revisionism swept the western world, and from there spread all over. Here's for instance How Onna-Bugeisha, Feudal Japan's Women Samurai, Were Erased From History. Then again, the same happened in Europe, as told in a book called “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative” by Kameron Hurley. Not that it's news for anyone in Romania: in my birth city still stands a magnificent statue of Ecaterina Teodoroiu, who enlisted to fight in WW1 despite being a woman, and was field-promoted all the way to lieutenant before falling in battle. While leading a charge, I might add.

Last but not least, while on the topic of gender roles, we have a story from a few years ago about the way in the Ancient world it was acceptable to change them through cross-dressing when needed. Much like in a certain videogame that took the world by storm last spring. You've guessed it, I mean Breath of the Wild. Which isn't at all surprising once you learn that Japanese geisha could easily be men as well as women... (And in fact they still can, as the art never died out.)

We're well into the 21st century now, but instead of the progress we were promised, the world is barely crawling its way back to what used to be normality. Oh well.

Tags: culture, society, history

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Accepting contributions to open source projects

05 January 2019 — Felix Pleşoianu

Hopefully this doesn't count as subtweeting. A chat conversation I just had caused me to go on a big rant, and to me that's usually a sign it's time for a proper blog post. In this case, about accepting contributions to open source projects.

To be brief: with open source projects, people use up their precious spare time, that they're not getting back, to make a contribution. They can be clumsy. They can be wrong. They're still almost certainly doing it in earnest. The code they submit might be not be how you'd do it. It might have bugs or even be completely broken. Doesn't matter. Be nice! If you have plans to accept it at all, work with the contributor to make their submission acceptable. Even if contributions are closed, kindly explain why.

It's disappointing enough to be told off in the nicest way. They won't offer again, and you've lost a potential contributor for good. I made that mistake. Now all I can do is weep.

Years ago a very enthusiastic college student sent me an extensive patch that wasn't even usable as it was. If memory serves, the code was outright broken. I rolled up my sleeves and made it work. The app was that much better for it. People noticed, too. He was apparently well-known in that particular community. The goodwill earned that way lasted me a long time.

Did it take extra work on my part? Of course. Was it worth more than the kid's? Never! That piece of my app wouldn't exist but for him spurring me on.

More recently someone offered to help me who has a competing product of their own. They went out of their way to help a competitor. And came back with a counter-proposal when the first one didn't work out for me. That's how much effort people are willing to put in when they love what they do. Taking the trouble to accept it was the least I could do. Now there are two applications with that particular capability. The world is richer for it. Everybody won.

Even the most competent surgeon needs assistants willing to work with them, if they are to operate at all. We programmers... are a dime a dozen. And people are fed up with us as it is.

Tags: programming, culture

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