Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don't Bother Reading "Acts of the Apostles"

Read Biodigital instead.

After reviewing John Sundman's Biodigital, I promised to report back after reading Acts of the Apostles which shares about 60% of its text.

It's very unusual for a lay reader to have access to two versions of a book in this way. Biodigital is partly the result of the sort of editorial work that goes on behind the scenes of publishing, and to read Acts is to become aware of sausage making that is usually invisible.

The bottom line is that Biodigital is a much better book. You won't miss anything if you skip Acts. While there's a lot of tightening here and there, there are two big changes which lead me to urge you to set aside Acts.

The first is Gordon Biersch, which has been removed from the book. Gordon Biersch opened in 1988 on Emerson Street in Palo Alto, California. I remember when it opened, it was a revelation. The beer was pretty good, and the food was designed to go with the beer. Today, this sort of place has a name: "gastro-pub", but back in 1988, that word didn't exist, at least in the vocabulary of grad students like me. Yuppies flocked to the place and by the time Sundman was writing Acts, it signified everything good and bad about Silicon Valley. But since then, Gordon Biersch has gone all Vegas. No really, the founders were bought out by money from Las Vegas. Today, there's a Gordon Biersch gastropub in 34 places where restaurants are allowed to brew beer, including 4 in Taiwan. It's owned by the same company that owns "Rock Bottom" brewpubs.

In Biodigital, the events that occurred at Gordon Biersch have been moved a mile or so southeast to Antonio's Nut House. Antonio's is still around. Like everything else in the area, it's changed, but it's not like Silicon Valley changed into Las Vegas. It's like Sun Microsystems changed into Google. I went and had a beer there when I was visiting earlier this month. I took pictures. Google maps has a walk-through view.

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The other big change is the book's depiction of Bartlett Aubrey. Bartlett, the estranged wife of hero Nick Aubrey, is supposed to be a brilliant molecular biologist, but in Acts, she mostly has big breasts. It's not a realistic portrait at all, more of an adolescent fantasy character. In Biodigital, references to Bartlett's breasts are cut by 50%, and I swear that's not why I thought the character was a lot smarter than in Acts.

So, support your local author. Or your local beer bar. Better yet, do both at the same time.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Subtleism" is a Useful Word

Allison Kaptur has written about the last of Hacker School's lightweight social rules: "No Subtle -isms":
Our last social rule, "No subtle -isms," bans subtle racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other kinds of bias. Like the first three rules, it's targeting subtle, accidental, mildly hurtful behavior. This rule isn't targeting slurs, harassment, or threats. These kinds of severe violations would have consequences, up to and including expelling someone from Hacker School. 
Breaking the fourth social rule, like breaking any other social rule, is an accident and a small thing. In theory, someone should be able to say "Hey, that was subtly sexist," get the response "Oops, sorry!" and move on just as easily as if they'd well-actually'ed. In practice, people are less likely to point out when this rule is broken, and more likely to be defensive if they were the rule-breaker. We'd like to change this.
When this was explained to me by Hacker School Co-Founder Sonali Sridhar, I thought it was brilliant, but I heard "subtle -ism" as a single word, "subtleism". "Subtleism" conveyed to me the concept that something could be harmless by itself, but multiplied by a thousand could be oppressive. So for example, using "you guys" for the second person plural when both men and women are included, is never meant to be sexist, and is rarely taken the wrong way. But an ocean of hundreds or even thousands of tiny, insignificant locutions like "you guys" can drown even a strong swimmer.

The reason subtleism is a useful word is that it can convey forgiveness in a context of working together to create a culture that is supportive of a diverse team. Reminding someone of a subtleism doesn't need to be a "shaming ritual"; after all, everyone uses subtleisms all the time. Compare the word "micro-aggression", which is used as an accusation or a lamentation.

Also, the word we should be using for the second person plural is "youse".