Category Archives: Humans

Abuse is indefensible

This post is entirely my personal opinion.

Linus Torvalds wrote a 541 word abusive rant about two lines of code he didn’t like.

J. David Eisenberg rewrote it to show how the same opinion could be expressed in an equally direct, but non-abusive fashion. At 180 words, it’s almost exactly 1/3 the length of Linus’s original, and much clearer.

As a complementary exercise, I extracted the overtly abusive parts of Linus’s text (103 words) and put them here. (Coarse language alert!)

I consider this kind of abuse indefensible. Nonetheless, I’ve seen multiple people defending and even celebrating it. (One outlet called it an “epic rant”.) Of the many things I could say about this, I will say just one: sadly, I am certain the reaction to this text would be entirely different were it written by a woman.

I will moderate the comment thread below this post with enthusiasm. I won’t hesitate to delete comments that are hurtful, abusive, or otherwise objectionable to me. Please think before commenting.

“Thank you” is a wonderful phrase

Last year I contributed a number of patches to pdf.js. Most of my patches were reviewed and merged to the codebase by Yury Delendik. Every single time he merged one of my patches, Yury wrote “Thank you for the patch”. It was never “thanks” or “thank you!” or “thank you :)”. Nor was it “awesome” or “great work” or “+1” or “\o/” or “\m/”. Just “Thank you for the patch”.

Oddly enough, this unadorned use of one of the most simple and important phrases in the English language struck me as quaint, slightly formal, and perhaps a little old-fashioned. Not a bad thing by any means, but… notable. And then, as Yury merged more of my patches, I started getting used to it. Tthen I started enjoying it. Each time he wrote it — I’m pretty sure he wrote it every time — it made me smile. I felt a small warm glow inside. All because of a single, simple, specific phrase.

So I started using it myself. (“Thank you for the patch.”) I tried to use it more often, in situations I previously wouldn’t have. (“Thank you for the fast review”.) I mostly kept to this simple form and eschewed variations. (“Thank you for the additional information.”) I even started using it each time somebody answered one of my questions on IRC. (“glandium: thank you”)

I’m still doing this. I don’t always use this exact form, and I don’t always remember to thank people who have helped me. But I do think it has made my gratitude to those around me more obvious, more consistent, and more sincere. It feels good.

Two suggestions for the Portland work week

Mozilla is having a company-wide work week in Portland next week. It’s extremely rare to have this many Mozilla employees in the same place at the same time, and I have two suggestions.

  • Write down a list of people that you want to meet. This will probably contain people you’ve interacted with online but not in person. And send an email to everybody on that list saying “I would like to meet you in person in Portland next week”. I’ve done this at previous work weeks and it has worked well. (And I did it again earlier today.)
  • During the week, don’t do much work you could do at home. This includes most solo coding tasks. If you’re tempted to do such work, stand up and try to find someone to talk to (or listen to) who you couldn’t normally talk to easily. (This is a rule of thumb; if a zero-day security exploit is discovered in your code on Tuesday morning, yes, you should fix it.) Failing that, gee, you might as well do something that you can only do in Portland.

That’s it. Have a great week!

YEINU: Your Experience Is Not Universal

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard statements like the following.

Firefox crashes ten times a day for me.  I don’t understand how anyone can use it.

There’s a simple answer: for most people it doesn’t crash ten times a day. But the person making the statement hasn’t realized that what links the first sentence to the second is an assumption — that other people’s experiences are the same. This is despite the fact that browsers are immensely complex, highly configurable, and used in many different ways on an enormous range of inputs.

(BTW, in case it’s unclear: I don’t think it’s ok for Firefox to crash ten times a day for anyone.)

My mental rebuttal to this kind of thinking is YEINU, short for “your experience is not universal”. It’s something of a past-tense dual to the well-known YMMV (“your mileage may vary”).

Although I’ve mostly thought about this in the context of browser development, it’s not hard to see how it relates to many facets of life. In particular, just this morning I was thinking about it in relation to this question on Quora and the general notion of privilege. Out of curiosity, I googled the exact phrase (using quotes), and while I got several hits on software forums (such as this and this, the latter being on a Mozilla forum), three of the five highest-ranked hits were from posts on feminist blogs (#1, #4, and #5). Interesting!

So, next time you’re puzzled by someone’s reaction to something, it might be worth considering if YEINU.