Knife Man

Bombs, Fuses, and Feminism

In response to a friend's posting about a particular software technique, I explained a another software technique which, using something called traits, allows one to avoid dispatch issues related to multiple inheritance and the ordering issues inherent in something called "mixins" (it also avoids the implementation duplication problem associated with Java Interfaces). And you know what? That's fucking boring. It's very boring. I read the original traits paper several times trying not to fall asleep. I did this because I knew it was important and I had to read it.

Had I replied with a dry description of strengths and weaknesses of traits versus mixins, people's eyes would have glazed over and not read what I wrote. Instead, I replied with an counter-example using bombs and girlfriends. I have received an email from someone who is offended by my example and on the likely chance that others may have been offended, I think that responding publicly is a good idea (I can't quote the original email I received as I've not asked permission).

First off, to the person who contacted me, here's the short response: I am truly sorry I have offended you. Long answer follows.

Years ago, I was asked to write a training manual for our staff. I had to explain how to use our new cost accounting software. This topic is about as exciting as watching earthworms get frisky but it was important. People needed to read it, but anything related to both cost-accounting and software puts people to sleep faster than my "does this smell like chloroform to you?" pickup line.

My manual had references to an office affair, concerns as to whether or not using hotel rooms for said affair could be claimed as an expense and, for good measure, I fit the Seven Dwarves in there as well. It was very bizarre, politically incorrect and the sort of thing which gets employees fired. Management talked to me about the manual. They were not happy.

The people who had to use the software told me it was the only software manual they read cover to cover.

I kept my job (it was never in serious danger), but I learned a valuable lesson. It's easy to get people to pay attention to boring topics: don't be boring. The problem is that if the topic is boring, you have to find something else to "spice" it up a bit. Regrettably, this means that some people, somewhere, will be offended. This is a downside and I do regret it every time I get email from folks who are offended by something I write, but the upside is that far more people read what I have to say. I really can't figure out how to balance this.

In defense of myself, I know my mind and I know my history and I'm quite willing to put my history of civil rights activism in writing, protest marches, donations and direct action up against just about anyone's and I know that many people who read what I write know this firsthand. But how does fit with what I wrote about some software which implied that a hypothetical girlfriend has an uncontrollable fuse and a non-lethal explosive property? Well, I thought what I wrote was tongue-in-cheek enough that folks would see the humor in it. I've used that particular example in front of female programmers before and they've laughed themselves silly (at least one is a good friend of mine and she would have ripped an arm off (mine, I assume) and beaten me with it if she thought I was serious). I've also ripped on male programmers plenty of times and have made disparaging comments about men's ability to "think outside the crotch". I'm an equal opportunity jerk, I suppose.

That being said, take a look at the "knife-man" icon I use for this post. There are a few replicas of that knife set and at least one of them is named "the ex-husband". I expect that there are men who are up in arms about that, thinking it implies that it's OK to have violent thoughts about men. I expect that there are women who are up in arms about that, thinking it implies that someone women are violent and unstable. If I had used a "bombs and boyfriends" example, there are men who would have been upset with the example. The only way I can be safe is to ensure that I never write anything which could possibly offend anyone. Not only is that impossible, it's booooorrrrriiiiinnnnggggg.

The example was, I thought, so absolutely ridiculous, I'm hard-pressed to understand how anyone could take it seriously. I don't want to offend people, yet also think that people sometimes need to realize when someone isn't being serious and just ignore it. So if you're offended by what I write, I do regret it and I'm sorry, but I generally try to write about things that I think are important (politics, economics, software engineering, civil rights) and I will continue to do my damndest to get people to keep reading.

Someone got offended by that comment.

Someone got offended.

I uh… OK. I need to sit down.

Perhaps I should have written "someone was offended". I know some people who would be offended by my grammar :)

(Yeah, I'm talkin' to you, Cedric)
No
(Anonymous)
I think he was a little shocked "someone" was offended. What a think skinned people we are that everything *has to be* politically correct.
Just keep going
(Anonymous)
Sometimes I think some people are easily offended because others try not to offend them. Everyone has to find his/her own line to draw between humor and seriousness. That said, I can't see _anything_ offensive about your comment and I'm glad you'll continue with your style, since I mostly enjoy reading your comments, even if I'm not interested in some of them technically.

Hell, most people in the dev community have a problem with writing things that are interesting to a broad audience. We shouldn't try to stop those who _can_.

.phaylon
I'm just offended by the fact that you're a programmer.

The bombs & girlfriend thing... meh.
This topic is really quite difficult, because you're trying to write on a professional-ish level there, and so you can't really use more emotionally demonstrative text (smilies, excessive italics or words like booooorrrrriiiiinnnnggggg), and therefore some people will take it as completely serious and just miss all humor.

While I definitely don't have the audience you do, I've offended a person or two with similar sorts of pushing-the-line examples. I've taken to adding a small (preferably actually a smaller font) footer/disclaimer stating that the example is meant to be humorous to keep attention, and no offense is explicitly or implicitly intended.
Hilarious and probably the only way I would ever read something like that, thus proving your point.

But the part that has had me giggling for the last 5 minutes is the "Does this smell like chloroform to you?" bit - may have to use that one myself sometime!
Ok. You can please some of the people some of the time. I CAN PISS THEM ALL OFF AT ONCE! Feel better? LOL I would not sweat it myself. Hugs bro!
i fucking LOVE blowing up girlfriends! but sometimes i use a bicycle pump!!!!
And I still maintain that if your girlfriends are exploding in a non-lethal manner, we don't know the same women.
Awesome! The very fact that you bothered to write out a "long response" shows that you DO care what people think (and you're just all around thoughtful), and I totally agree with the difficulty in walking the appealing-versus-offensive tightrope. I know I have it difficult in that regard, working in social justice and social change, as I am, but your line of work....sheesh!! RTFM is the last thing I do ;-)

Some people are incredibly gullible (not too wretched a trait in this age of cynicism), and some people just go through life thinking of themselves as victims. (The latter sure takes care of having to take any responsibility for yourself!) And then there are, of course, 1,000 other reasons why anyone might take offense. I'm compassionate to all scenarios, except perhaps the "playing the victim." (Reminds me of a story I recently heard about a friend's workplace, where an extremely negligent and bludger worker plays the "gay card" (claiming anti-gay discrimination) any time they're called out on their bludging and COSTLY muck-ups....that sort of idiotic "I'm a victim" crap actually HURTS efforts at eliminating discrimination against the LGBT community. Makes me very sad....)

I'm so stressed out at work that I have to give pretty blistering commentary on just about everything I pass on to management, and I really don't know how they can handle that acerbic tone. I do know they're feeling similarly ;-) but at the same time, I still hesitate to hit the "send" button. (Talk about a detonator!) But if I don't point out what I see, how do I know it will be seen by those who can actually DO ANYTHING about it?? And what better way to get their attention than to relate the information the way I'm actually FEELING about it, instead of sounding like some robot, droning away in a sedated, uncaring tone??
I am surprised someone was upset about that, but maybe I'm just not sensitive enough ... In any event, it now makes for a far better story.
I'm with you. I salute your style, sassiness, and creativity :)

They need to loosen up.