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“I Don't Like Your Examples” (2000) (oreilly.com)
122 points by nkron 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments



Leaving aside the politics, boy does the listed example suck.

Relational databases are about relations. The trite little employee/department examples we've all seen before work because most people learning about databases immediately can understand a whole bunch of different relations that can occur here. You can think about concrete problems you might want to solve using that data -- figuring out who has to do annual reviews of what employee, doing payroll, etc. You can get a book's worth of mileage just adding things to that simple set of tables.

Meanwhile, in this example -- if the ICJ wanted to make a database of war criminals, this isn't close to how they'd do it. Storing the sort of data in the example... using Excel might be overkill, you could do that in the text editor of your choice. This isn't even a toy problem. It's not a simplified version of the real thing for teaching purposes, it's a polemic slapped in the middle of a bunch of boilerplate SQL for no other reason than because the author is bored of writing SQL tutorials and is spicing it up by throwing in a bunch of polemics. There's no connection between the material there and what the user is supposed to be learning. It's distracting. It can be nothing but distracting.

If you want to say that using business-oriented examples propagates a certain sort of politics, fine (although nobody is using Oracle for anything else, the license costs rule it out for hobbyist products). But make your examples illuminate what you want to teach, not distract from it.


They probably would use Excel or something; and they'd be horridly wrong.

One of the major features of a database is to allow multiple users to simultaneously work on the set of data as a whole without unexpected data loss or conflict*. (Obviously if two workers need to update the same resources and are working with external programs those need to request the correct locks and/or have transaction mechanisms that make sense.)


The examples are not simply about storing two key value pairs. His new books do not include the facts from the examples given in this article. It seems to be easy to miss the technical point by being upset about we think is polemics.


You could also use the destruction of open source projects committed by Oracle as examples. It would be interesting to see the time from invasion to time of death for Solaris, Hudson, Open Office, etc.


I think I disagree with him here.

I tend to think that examples like his (polarizing topics) are distracting to the message of the content.

I teach students, and they are, quite literally, paying me for my knowledge and experience about that subject, not for me to distract everyone with my personal opinions about unrelated issues. I doubt that any of them even know my political beliefs.


Well, I see where you are coming from, and I don't necessarily agree that the examples he chose are very good ones.

However, I think the overall point he makes is worth some consideration. Many technical books (consciously or unconsciously on part of the author) frame software as something that primarily satisfies commercial or business interests. If you want, that in itself is a pretty polarising agenda, and I often found myself moaning when reading yet another database book that gives "managing employees" as an example. Why not use something mostly unbiased, such as "invitations for your birthday party"?

That being said, I also agree with the author on the lack of public discourse in North America. I recently moved to Canada and I am astounded by how little politics are discussed here, even in those places where they should be discussed (e.g., take a look at the trifle on the CBC News website "Politics" section). Democracy lives from talking about controversial matters, and I always get angry at people suggesting "not to talk about these things at work (or family dinner for that matter)". This is not how we move things forward! This is how I radically changed my mind on many matters over the course of years. So, I'd suggest that we should embrace the extremes, discuss them in a civilised manner, and meet somewhere in the middle. Avoiding these topics altogether is only strengthening polarisation. Whether a book about technology is the right place to do so, is rightly open for debate.


> I recently moved to Canada and I am astounded by how little politics are discussed here, even those places where they should be discussed

If you're in Ontario, take a look at The Agenda with Steve Paikin. It is the gold standard of Canadian political discourse. It fills some of that niche you refer to with well-moderated interviews and discussions with various experts and stakeholders on political topics of regional, provincial or national interest, airing five nights a week on public television and the web.

But, speaking as a Canadian looking in on the US, I often get the feeling that Americans hate each other. I'm glad we don't have as much of that dysfunctional political animosity here. Our conflict-avoidance has its own issues, but we're definitely getting a lot out of the values of peace, order and good government.


The birthday party example makes database look pointless. I can imagine company big enough to need database for employees, birthday party is more practical inside a text file.

I strongly prefer those democratic controversies not affecting my work. One reason for keeping it out is so that people who think each others opinions are horrible/unnatural can still produce work together.


I fully agree that my "birthday party" example sucks. I just couldn't think of anything better.

Regarding the "no controversies at work" matter, I feel that coming to a situation where you dismiss each others opinions as "horrible" is a problem in the first place. Having worked with people ranging from Christian fundamentalist to extreme left, I always have the feeling that we come to agree that our differences are funded in a relatively small set of assumptions about the world, and it is far easier to accept one another once you've come to grasp these assumptions. If any discussion about these topics is widening the divide instead of advancing mutual understanding, society is truly doomed.

So, if you don't want to discuss these things at work, why not at least be curious about other people's thoughts and honestly ask them in a non-condescending way about why they think about something in a certain way?


They don't divide when the topic actually does not matter to you. That is when you can easily be detached. When the outcome of the discussion affects you personally, then it is much different. Speaking about Christian fundamentalist specifically, if the consensus in work ends up being that I was supposed to be more with children anyway or that I should be naturally submissive, then my position and career will be fundamentally different then if the consensus ends up being radical aggressive feminist women-are-always-right stance.

Those debates have consequences and that is why they are heated. Alternatively we can make work about work where impact of these things is minified.

"So, if you don't want to discuss these things at work, why not at least be curious about other people's thoughts and honestly ask them in a non-condescending way about why they think about something in a certain way?"

Because I am here to do the job. I picked up this job because I liked programming and problem solving. If I would be interested that much in someones that was randomly assigned to the same team opinions about my gender, motherhood, health care or tax policy, I would pick up different job.

I also strongly hate when people discuss topics like that for hours, then have to stay late and then frame themselves as hard workers who stay late or demand that I stay late too, because they need my support.

Discuss those things after work, with or without colleges.


Different people write books for very different reasons, with very different styles.

Some want to maximize their profits. Some want to be formal, and 100% focused on the core-topic. Some want to please every single potential reader. And some see it as an avenue for self-expression and having some "fun" on the side.

The author probably knows that his writing style is going to turn off a number of potential readers, which in turn is going to reduce the amount of money he can make. Clearly he has decided that he's ok with this. He has even gone out of his way to warn readers, so I don't think anyone is justified in complaining. He's entitled to write books in any style he finds fulfilling, just as everyone's entitled to boycott his books if they don't like it.


“And some see it as an avenue for self-expression and having some "fun" on the side.” this usually leads to more interesting reads. Not for everybody, but even Shakespeare had contemporary critics.


I agree with the article, at least in that our values and beliefs end up embedded in the examples (e.g., all the emp/dept examples).

You need to use some kind of data to help the reader, an abstract concept isn't going to work.

I do disagree with the author in that pushing a political viewpoint in an example is in poor taste and makes understanding the example difficult for readers unfamiliar with any jargon.

Maybe examples that draw from nature (e.g., taxonomy hierarchy) or the humanities (e.g., cataloging a library) would be different enough to be refreshing and less... capitalistic.


Politically charged examples is a great strategy.

I've wondered if there some kind of license that would prohibit trogs from using my tools. I hadn't thought of just offending the people I don't like, so they'd reject me and my efforts first. Kinda like judo.

Genius.


I'm with you. I find these examples distracting if not annoying.


It’s just a book. He’s taken it a direction that decreases his audience. It sounds like he’s probably published and sold enough copy to be able to be picky about readership. You’re welcome to not purchase this material. He’s also welcome to write and publish it.

Otherwise, I think he could have tried to depolarize his examples or take them a more light/comedic direction. Maybe a “murder count” to classification switch clause with a silly Megadeth reference. If it fits the criteria, then put in the wc procedure, etc. there’s always a way to spice up examples without being outright biased.


To be fair, if I'd been writing about PL/SQL - which is possibly the worst language ever conceived - for as long as that author had, I think I might start to go a little mad with the examples after a while as well.


You don't know what your students are paying you for. Maybe it's just a piece of paper. Maybe it's specialized knowledge. Or to fulfill a cultural obligation. Maybe it's to babysit them while the find a spouse. Or Maybe it is for a political awakening. They could be paying to to be challenged.

I mean, just because I show up at the cash register and pay for a screwdriver doesn't mean you get to dictate that I obviously must be out to drive some screws. That's a very one-dimensional and frankly impotent worldview.

How the shit is democracy supposed to work when politics is a taboo subject anyhow.

>I doubt that any of them even know my political beliefs.

So I don't know what your point is supposed to be here... That somehow your students' ignorance of your beliefs justifies an assertion that they should be ignorant of your beliefs?


The question I’d pose to the author is, what would he think of a book using examples he disagrees with? Let’s say for advocating for arming every American or against gay marriage.

The vast majority arguing like the author are not ok with this - it’s only good if the content fits their world view.


> The vast majority arguing like the author are not ok with this

Your critique isn't very strong when it hinges on supposing something that is not supported by the text, merely by hyperbolic "whatabouts" that you assume the answer you wan't to critique. You're putting the author in a box rather than engaging with the words that they wrote.


I’d agree if this was an active discussion between the author and me. But I’m posing a question to an author of a piece written 17 years ago...

Allow me to reframe the question: if you’re fine with the book as-written, would you still be fine with it if it expressed the opposite political views?


I don't think all political views are equivalent. Of course I'm supportive of opinions that I agree with, like you point out. Opinions I disagree with or espouse a world-view that is different than mine? Of course I'm fine with that. I read and own many authors I disagree with because I value the knowledge gained by reading them and understanding their words, even if I disagree.

Your example though? > Let’s say for advocating for arming every American or against gay marriage.

Arming them for what? To shoot gays? Yeah I would probably be pretty upset about that. Advocating ethnic cleansing? "Alternative facts" about vaccines?

If I were on Twitter or something I might tweet, or write a blog post about it trying to convince the publishers to change their mind or encouraging others to support different publishers. I don't think that makes me a book burner.

In reality though unless it was something truly vile or dangerous that crosses some sort of hard to define personal line I would probably not do anything at all... I'm not a despotic ruler who cannot abide the existence of mere words I disagree with...


Then you’re more open minded than most.

The point I was trying to get at is that when discussing a topic like “it is ok to use obviously political examples in a book about programming”, then it’s more interesting to consider what your response will be when they’re political positions different from yours. Nobody minds being “confronted” with opinions they already hold.

Note I explicitly didn’t give an example like ethnic cleansing or shooting gays. Advocating for murder isn’t political opinion in my book.


Your commitment to arguing hypotheticals instead of engaging with anything the author actually wrote is impressive.


Yeah, this is a good point.

Sure, you can put the examples you want in your book. I think it's your own form of personal expression, and maybe you can move hearts and souls in this way.

But you have to own it. Some people might not buy your stuff. Others will go out of their way to buy your stuff. Own the consequences to your speech.

If a white nationalist released a book in the same way... I wouldn't buy it. They might whine about me not wanting to listen to their opinion. And I don't! I would probably buy the article's author's book. But there's no fallacy there.

People want to buy and read what they want to buy and read.


> Yeah, this is a good point.

It's not a very good point. It hinges on the idea that the author wouldn't want to read a book that did the same but had a different political leaning. There is no indication whatsoever that this is the case and the OP in this case is essentially banking on the fact that most people will assume with him that that's the case.


I would suggest that the author is attempting to use the "thinking past the sale" strategy to influence people, and it's causing cognitive dissonance in the readers who disagree with his position.

The typical reader's mind is actively open to learning PL/SQL. To do so, and to follow the examples as is, their mind has to at least provisionally accept the author's viewpoint in order to understand the concept that the example was designed to teach.

When the "false" belief is rejected (for whatever reason), there is a reasonable chance that the example, which was visually and mentally tied that belief, will be rejected, or only provisionally accepted, which could leave the reader feeling like they haven't got their money's worth.

Bland and vague things are accepted as true and assimilated into worldviews much more easily than controversial things, which might be why most examples are boring.


Consider that at the time Eich made his controversial donation, it was the majority opinion - Prop 8 passed. That didn't age well, and ended up costing him dearly.


I realize this is from 2000 but why would anyone think this person's trite and wholly conventional political opinions are in any way interesting or noteworthy? Strange psychology this guy has, like he's just trying to rattle off as many "controversial" "issues" as he can name, with no regard for his readership... the whole thing comes across as juvenile and narcissistic.


> why would anyone think this person's trite and wholly conventional political opinions are in any way interesting or noteworthy?

I would think so because Feuerstein's examples had shown that many people distracted by examples, that means that they are greatly interested by politics. If they didn't care, they would not notice the nature of examples.

The other side is readers are unable to deal with their interest to politics and to not be distracted from the main topic of the book. The goal of book is not to teach readers to concentrate on what they are doing, so maybe dull examples would be more appropriate.


> trite and wholly conventional political opinions

It's weird that you judge political opinions on whether they're "conventional" or not, as if you're looking for only the most novel, original politics.

I'm imagining a stereotypical hipster sipping kombucha, going "Ugh, tax reform used to be cool before all the fucking college kids got into it. I've been into legalizing meth lately--it's so real, y'know?"


There's nothing wrong with having conventional political opinions, and I wasn't really critiquing them as such. Again, my point was really about Feuerstein's weird psychology, in that he thought cramming his database programming book with such unremarkable observations was some bold act of defiance. I'm just picturing him at his keyboard, "I'm gonna blow these SHEEPLE'S minds... by opening their eyes to the TRUTH that companies profit from operating prisons."

It reflects an indifference to his reader and a general kind of solipsism about the proper role of political discourse. His subsequent explanation that "everything is political" reflects the possibility of an obsessive, neurotic mind, focused on every possible slight or injustice, restlessly waiting to explode at any instant with unwanted political diatribes. I bet he's a joy to be around.


You've got an awfully rosy view of American politics if you think any of the issues he mentioned aren't depressingly controversial. I'm not sure how you can remain so naive with Trump in the White House.

(Of course Feuerstein was awfully naive to think that all his readers would joyfully embrace this sort of thing. I'm not clear why he was surprised that controversial politics cause controversy. But that's tangential to your point.)


If these opinions were conventional/universal, then there would be no controversy. It wouldn't even be political. People wouldn't have made this much noise about something that was trite, like employee/payroll systems.


> I'm imagining a stereotypical hipster sipping kombucha, going "Ugh, tax reform used to be cool before all the fucking college kids got into it. I've been into legalizing meth lately--it's so real, y'know?"

I realize this is a side note to a side note, but I think the attractiveness of this stereotype is a problem. I wonder if your prior judgements/experience lead you to misread the parent post and put them in that readily-available “hipster” box, where you could then safely roll your eyes at them for a point that I don’t think they were actually trying to make.


Juvenile, sure. No more juvenile than the other crap people put in examples. I mean really, programmers are notoriously juvenile, what's new? Narcissistic? Not so much.


If he was just trying to rattle off a list of maximally controversial issues, there'd be some right-wing ones on his list. If your goal is to offend for the sake of offending, it'd be self-defeating to only offend one side.

The guy has an ideology, he wants it to inform his writing. You may disagree with the ideology, but the simple fact of your disagreement doesn't mean it's incoherent.


17 years ago. It’s interesting how much things have changed and how much they haven’t. This was written a year before 9/11, for instance.


Interesting. I'm still processing this essay.

Perhaps the problem to many is that this approach interrupts the flow necessary for fast learning. When I read a technical tome, I'm trying to understand the technical content as rapidly as I can. Trying to consider the political points, even if I agree with them, would greatly slow my learning via distraction and thus would inhibit the reason I paid for the book. It does feel a little misleading, like a bait and switch, if I had to pay for the book and this wasn't made clear somewhere: "I paid for SQL but I got political assertions instead that I could not easily skip."

I do agree that there is inadequate real political discourse, but this doesn't seem like a solution. But it's a free country, write it and see who wants to be your audience.


I dunno, I don't feel a need for flow when learning, and tone-heavy works are oftenjoying my favorite. For example, Learn You A Haskell For Great Good is one of my favorite language introductions, and also very heavy on random colorful tidbits that might distract fom pure technical information.


I thought the examples sounded more interesting than your usual ones and honestly I would prefer those to whatever user login example you see usually. There are probably several that I don't agree with politically, but who cares? It's still a technical book and if people like the author's previous work I don't see why the quality of it would have changed.


I really liked this article.

More and more I feel as though my life and the lives of so many people around me is cheapened as we are treated as tools to generate growth and consumption.

I long for a world where I and those around me are working to make a world that has moved far beyond the consumerism and the competition attitude. I want to collaborate with my fellow people, not compete with them. This is possible for all digitizable value, but it takes work to build a library of wealth not held down by intellectual property restrictions.

It is possible though.


God forbid we should be distracted with Real Life when reading a book about databases.


> We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

-- Ray Bradbury


I think a lot of the criticisms of his approach hinge on making false equivalences (what if he was a white nationalist!) and we should be careful of that. His examples are partisan, but not particularly extreme to my eyes.

If the author wants to write a book with an inbuilt smaller audience more power to him - the more extreme it gets then presumably the smaller the audience gets.


way easier to understand complex syntax than reading yet another foo(bar) example.


That’s a seriously good point. It’s far easier to understand certain concepts with an actual real world example. (Not that his examples are exactly real world...but they’re not foo/bar.)


One of very few Amazon reviews I have ever posted was a 5-star of Feuerstein's PL/Sql Best Practices. I might not have done so, but for a one-star review given by somebody unhappy with Feuerstein's dedication of the book to Palestinian women (I think it was). I was not out to endorse (or damn) Feuerstein's views on the Middle East, but I thought that the content of the book should be reviewed on its own terms.


I barely know who Kissinger is but the fact that the author admits it's controversial (in contrast to say calling Hitler a war criminal) is enough for me to avoid this guy's books at all cost.

If I read a technical book I presume the examples are objective. If I would have read it without knowing anything beforehand I would take it literally and all of a sudden become a Kissinger hater without realizing it's actually a subjective political opinion.


I think perhaps you may be conflating "non-controversial" opinions with "objective" opinions. As the author writes:

> The Hidden and Prevailing Ideology

> I believe that just about every technical book comes with a body of politics, an ideology that governs and usually restricts its example set. We don't notice the political slant because it reflects the dominant viewpoint in our society and is thus invisible.

Or more generally -- the status quo is highly political. If you choose to follow a mainstream or establishment viewpoint, it does not logically follow that this mainstream viewpoint is objective or true or correct or laudable, although in some cases it may be. It gets more worrying when you don't consciously realise you've made a choice.

But yes, perhaps accidentally absorbing and signalling non-mainstream subjective political opinions could be hazardous to your career / participation in society / life , but that has nothing to do with the truth or otherwise of those political opinions.


You are right. However, know I made a choice and I have no problem admitting that I think Hitler is a more obvious war criminal than Kissinger, even if it's possible it's all just a construct by the mainstream establishment. Call me a sheep if you want.


Both are very obviously war criminals. Hitler's actions were obviously more egregious but war criminal is just a person who commits one or more war crimes (regarless of scope), which they both (amoung many, many others) did.


Really? You become a "Kissinger hater" from reading an insert statement in a textbook?


Other things you have to avoid at all costs include Monty Python, they wrote a song about Kissinger. Imagine laughing at some silly physical slapstick one moment and becoming a war criminal hater the next.


Reminds me of ashidakim[1], a website that works adds into Zen Koans:

The pupils of the Tendai school used to study meditation before Zen entered Japan. Four of them who were intimate friends promised one another to observe seven days of silence.

On the first day all were silent. Their meditation had begun auspiciously, but when night came and the oil lamps were growing dim one of the pupils could not help exclaiming to a servant: "Fix those lamps."

The second pupil was surprised to hear th first one talk. "We are not supposed to say a word," he remarked.

"You two are stupid. Why did you talk?" asked the third.

"I am the only one who has not talked," concluded the fourth pupil. It can be very difficult for people in Western culture to be silent. This is especially true for any person who talks for a living, such as a Columbus criminal defense attorney. Generally Westerners have a negative view towards silence, where members of Eastern cultures tend to embrace it.

[1]: http://www.ashidakim.com/zenkoans/71learningtobesilent.html


> The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

http://orwell.ru/library/essays/wiw/english/e_wiw

Substitute art with anything else, it's still a political attitude. Politics relates to how we live together, or fail to live together, not something politicians do 24/7 and citizens do once every four years. And even that wasn't so (though it is) the author did point out that a lot of technical documentation do contain political examples, it's just kind of invisible and acceptable (to some people) when it's in support of the status quo, which even "not touching X with a barge pole" is. As the biography of Howard Zinn is titled: "You can't be neutral on a moving train."

People who think arresting and sentencing war criminals and other issues are radical far out ideas that upset them so much they can't concentrate should write their own books. Is that too much to ask? Let's say political examples distract people, and make their life worse by some laughable, but still measurable amount. What about the people who get killed by us living in a world where such examples are a valid criticism? They don't even get to read the book and get offended. It all boils down to what class of problems you prioritize, people who read technical documentation not getting distracted or people not getting murdered. I say good on the author.

How many of the people who think the examples are "bad taste" or "polarizing" or "controversial" or other synonyms of doubleplusungood are leveraging the same criticisms in a more effective form? Dare I guess? At the heart of it, I think people really don't like it when someone flaunts not having lost what they did indeed lose or never even acquired.

> When I was asked to make this address I wondered what I had to say to you boys who are graduating. And I think I have one thing to say. If you wish to be useful, never take a course that will silence you. Refuse to learn anything that implies collusion, whether it be a clerkship or a curacy, a legal fee or a post in a university. Retain the power of speech no matter what other power you may lose. If you can take this course, and in so far as you take it, you will bless this country. In so far as you depart from this course, you become dampers, mutes, and hooded executioners. As a practical matter, a mere failure to speak out upon occasions where no statement is asked or expect from you, and when the utterance of an uncalled for suspicion is odious, will often hold you to a concurrence in palpable iniquity. Try to raise a voice that will be heard from here to Albany and watch what comes forward to shut off the sound. It is not a German sergeant, nor a Russian officer of the precinct. It is a note from a friend of your father's, offering you a place at his office. This is your warning from the secret police. Why, if you any of young gentleman have a mind to make himself heard a mile off, you must make a bonfire of your reputations, and a close enemy of most men who would wish you well. I have seen ten years of young men who rush out into the world with their messages, and when they find how deaf the world is, they think they must save their strength and wait. They believe that after a while they will be able to get up on some little eminence from which they can make themselves heard. "In a few years," reasons one of them, "I shall have gained a standing, and then I shall use my powers for good." Next year comes and with it a strange discovery. The man has lost his horizon of thought, his ambition has evaporated; he has nothing to say. I give you this one rule of conduct. Do what you will, but speak out always. Be shunned, be hated, be ridiculed, be scared, be in doubt, but don't be gagged. The time of trial is always. Now is the appointed time.

-- John J. Chapman, Commencement Address to the Graduating Class of Hobart College, 1900

You may agree with that being words to live by or not, but you cannot tell someone who lives by them to not live by them and nudge them in the slightest. To get to that point, they likely fought harder battles than you can even imagine, since you avoided them. Don't bring a soggy paper bag to a diamond fight is what I'm essentially trying to say.


Beautifully stated. Makes me appreciate more the people that put themselves out there. It is definitely a hard road to speak up for things you believe in but definitely a necessity to freedom in my opinion.


Great to see some sanity among all these comments!


>It all boils down to what class of problems you prioritize, people who read technical documentation not getting distracted or people not getting murdered. I say good on the author.

Clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap whistle clap.


Look at those responses he got from upset readers of the book. They are polite and articulate their point. Nowadays, he would get death threats.


This is horrifying. Left and right already read different news, different fiction, different philosophy, and different scientific papers. Are they also supposed to read different O'Reilly textbooks?

Granted, Kissinger should be a war criminal, but how does this press the case against him? It just creates another degree of separation in the divergent realities constructed by the two groups.


Totally agree, we need to find middle ground on Kissinger so as to not offend special snowflake liber... er, wait.

There is only one reality. The rest is politics and self-delusion.


Alice doesn't know much about Kissinger, but detests Chomsky for denying the Khmer Rouge. Bob doesn't know much about Chomsky, but detests Kissinger for the bombing campaign. They both live in the same world, they both believe true facts, neither is delusional, but the reality they see is not the same.

If they approached each other from a position of mutual respect over their abilities and PL/SQL knowledge, they would have a chance to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. If they instead publish a series of passive-aggressive textbooks where Bob puts Kissinger in a table of war criminals while Alice places Noam Chomsky in a user's table next to David Duke, they'll hate each other and have no chance to fill in the gaps.


Mods, it's worth putting "(2000)" in the title.


That's the last book I'd buy from that author. If you want to write about politics, write about politics. Don't try to sneak your political views into a technical book.


What is this? "Write about what you want, but only if I also want it!" He wants to write a technical book with political examples, and did. How do you justify the requirement that books must into clean archetypical categories against the "do what you want" argument you just made?


The title of the book is "Oracle PL/SQL Programming: Guide to Oracle8i Features", not "Oracle PL/SQL Programming, plus my rambling political edge"


I'm not sure why you think that's a prohibition on political content in examples. Lots of technical books have diatribes concerning many things irrelevant to the subject matter.

I read a programming book that dared to have jokes in it once. Gasp! One even talked about DNA and the wagging of dogs' tails. I suppose we've got to be extra puritanical and dogmatic once our delicate political sensitivities become more important than learning something. That way lies progress.


Jokes are what is called comic relief - a psychologic tool to ease the acceptance of the content. I find it hard to imagine a political topic fitting the same function. But who am I to judge the author o his choices of examples. The only way is through not buying the book and maybe giving advice not to buy it either.


Admittedly, that would be the kind of title that would make me want to pick up the book waaaay more.


Which is fine - but the point is you know what you're getting.


Scholarly papers* on the design of atomic weapons would be better if the equations indicated how many humans would be killed.

So why cavil at the author suggesting, through the thoughful use of examples that certain modes of acting have real world consequences ?

* Undoubtedly heavily classified. But have a look at the unclassified article I have linked to in another submission on nuclear warhead reentry vehicle design...

Certain assumptions would have to be made on the density of inhabitation of the target zones.


The authors point is that publishing examples that fit our expectations of a standard example (employer & employee) is also a political statement, just that it is one in support of the status quo and therefore provokes little response. But it is still a political act, which contributes to the pervasive sense that the relationships embedded in the examples are natural rather than arbitrary and challengeable.


It’s just a book. Without your mind to give it meaning, it has no meaning. If you’re so easily offended because you’re sensitive like a mimosa, it’s capitalism, don’t buy the book.

You had better concentrate on the examples if you want to learn something; don’t be such sensitive daisies.

And it’s the author’s book, he can and may put any kind of examples he wants; when you write your own book, you get to do the same thing.


I wonder if any of the 'political' code has worked it's way via cargo-cult programming into production


If you really wanted to achieve this, write some politically charged Stack Overflow answers.


From the example listed, it’s political data, not political code.


Political schema:

INSERT INTO war_criminal (name, activity) VALUES (culprit, event);


In the books I've written I added references to movies that I liked as part of the examples. I remember including a "PC Load Letter" error message as a homage to Office Space. Other examples were more obscure, such an address or phone number of one of the characters in the movie.


ITT: Example after example of persons unaware of their own politics.


My main objection to the examples he gives is that a book about technology leaves little to no space to expand on these matters. I think that providing context is of utter importance in written media. In some sense, the author exerts control over the reader, as reading is all about internalising the author's thoughts, and does not give the opportunity to (immediately) ask questions. Just stating (hidden) opinions about things that are off-topic, abuses the trust that a reader puts into the author. Correspondingly, such examples borderline on being rude and are likely to result in strong reactions when discovered.

A well-balanced treatise on something that traces the author's line of thought gives the reader the opportunity to consider his own opinion in the light of the information that is being presented. However, as I wrote above, a book about technology is not the right place for an excursion into the history of war-crimes, and a technology author would first have to convince the reader that he is actually eligible to talk about these matters.

Still, and as I already wrote in some child comment, the author is correct that current technology-books often contain a "hidden" agenda (software being framed as something that primarily satisfies commercial or business interests), and it is also correct that democracies should more openly embrace discussion on polarising topics instead of tabooing it. I would argue that these two issues are best addressed in the following way:

a) Authors should actively think about whether examples are sufficiently neutral, e.g., talk about a database for the organisation of your "birthday party" (all people have birthdays, and many people celebrate them in one way or another) instead of talking about the database managing your companies' employees (at least if the title of your book is not "Relational Databases in Human Resources"). Note that being neutral is different from being uncontroversial. For example, when writing about cognitive neuroscience it is impossible to not (at least implicitly) state that humans are "just animals", although this statement surely upsets people's religious feelings. Yet the statement is still on-topic and neutral, since it is the very premise of this line of research.

b) Non-fictional texts are intrinsically about providing context, and deviating into the off-topic is only watering down the value of these writings. In the context of written communication, democracy is best advanced by providing opinion-pieces which are clearly labelled as such, and (in a perfect world) refer to completely unopinionated material for context. So if you want to advance democracy, embrace discussing your world view, but only when you know that your audience is ready for that (e.g. by clearly labeling your writings as such, or by making sure that your peer actually wants to talk about this topic), and back-up your claims.


re: this comment from the author:

> I believe that just about every technical book comes with a body of politics, an ideology that governs and usually restricts its example set. We don't notice the political slant because it reflects the dominant viewpoint in our society and is thus invisible.

It's not just mainstream technical books that are immersed in a dominant political ideology. In his book "Disciplined Minds", Jeff Schmidt makes a strong argument that political and ideological training and qualification play a major part in the process of creating new professional workers:

> Unlike employees whose actions can be prescribed in unlimited detail, these workers have to understand their employer's interests, because there are moments when that understanding is all they have to go on. Employers designate these special nonmanagement workers "professionals".

> Preparing to become a professional is fundamentally different from preparing to become a nonprofessional, because the blank sheet professionals face holds an infinity of possibilities, and there is no way to teach or even list them all. Professional training therefore centers around ideology, because ideology guides the subtle decisions and creative choices that the professional makes as she fills the blank sheet. (The professional's work, in turn, propagates the ideology that guides it.) Even those whose range of discretion is humiliatingly insignificant require the special preparation: The system apparently considers ideology to be of paramount importance. Thus, if the work of a particular occupation is in part creative -- that is, if the decisions are not _purely_ routine or rote -- preparing and qualifying for that occupation will include a _major_ ideological component involving years of postsecondary schooling, even if the creative work is a _minor_ part of the job.

> This accounts for the seeming disparity between amount of preparation and authority on the job. ("After all the schooling I went through, they hardly let me make a difference around here.") And it accounts for the seemingly irrelevant part of the schooling required to get the paper credentials that allow one to work as a professional. Despite years of student opposition, these qualifying assignments are still imposed, precisely because they are _not_ irrelevant. They get the individual used to the kind of political framework within which the skills and techniques of the profession are applied.

> When employers designate certain jobs "professional" and insist that employees have professional training -- not just the technical skills that seem sufficient to do the work -- they must have more in mind that efficiency. Hierarchical organizations need professionals, because through professionals those at the top control the political content of what is produced, and because professionals contribute to the bosses' control of the workforce itself. It is crucial for the functioning and survival of the institution -- and the hierarchical system of production as a whole -- that the employees who make decisions do so in the interests of the employer. As we will see, the employer's control of the professional's creative work is assured by the ideological discipline developed during professional training. And the employer's control of the workforce is maintained in part through the professional's elitism and support for hierarchy in the workplace. The preparation process develops, and the qualification process measures, the student's willingness and ability to accept ideological direction from future employers. The one who has met the requirements -- the "qualified professional" -- can be trusted to do what is "politically correct" when making decisions and creative choices at work.

Schmidt's book is is fantastic, and I thoroughly recommend it. See e.g. http://disciplinedminds.tripod.com/


I agree with cwyers that the example are bad. Databases (relational ones, anyway) are good at describing relationships between clearly defined entities. The reason that people use Employees and Managers or Sales and Month in books is because they are clearly defined relationships and entities at the most basic level.

Those kinds of super-dumbed-down examples serve a purpose: to provide a prototypical way of thinking about the technology and how it's best used.

I mostly agree with the author about his politics, as far as I can tell from what he wrote. But I think his agenda got ahead of him. I had really hard time going to a small religious school when I was a kid because a daily dose of "Jesus says . . ." seemed to me to be completely irrelevant to a math class. It was, for lack of a better term, an unnecessary context switch. WTF am I supposed to be thinking about right now? What I think or what I believe?

But examples of a war criminal database just don't fit when you're trying to teach someone to (hopefully) do more than just copy and paste some code. The point of these examples is to provide a mental template for how to think about relationships between entities and what entities are.

If, on the other hand, the book were supposed to be more advanced and dealt with topics like, "How to navigate hot-button topics in the workplace" or if the example really wanted to model how one might design a database that served the purpose of categorizing war criminals, I would be okay with it. As it is, I just think it's a garbage example.

I do, however, think the author has a point about how much we gloss over sublimated political and social speech. It's true. We do that. And we often accidentally espouse the status quo by trying to be neutral. That is a legitimate problem not only in technology but also in journalism and in every endeavor that involves written language.

From that point of view, I applaud the author for trying something different. And I can certainly understand the need to try something different when you've been doing basically the same thing for 10 years.

That's my general response to this. My specific response to it is that teachers--in whatever format: book, in-person, classroom--have an obligation to only teach. Never to preach. People can go to churches for that if they want. But if I'm teaching you, my mandate is to lead you. To point you in a direction that will enable you to increase your knowledge. I struggle with this quite a lot as a violin teacher of young children.

Classical music and its history and theory are full of politically and morally charged ideas. It's not all about how to get the fingers of your left hand to fall into a certain configuration in a certain time constraint. Or about how to put your bow in exactly the right place with regard to a vibrating string.

You have to manage your relationship with your audience. You have to understand why this music came to be, and yes, how things like religion were a factor. It's not simple.

But my job as a teacher isn't to tell my students that Mozart was a womanizing asshole, or to pass judgement on Tchaikovsky for being a closet homosexual who was very kind to his wife in spite of being very frustrated.

My job is to lead the student. To show them where facts can be discovered and ultimately to enable them to process those facts and draw their own conclusions. To give the student a framework for how to process facts, analyze them, and draw their own conclusions.

What I think about this author's approach is tied to my personal opinion of what we should be doing when we are in leadership positions. Saying that Kissinger is a war criminal doesn't inspire the kind of learning I think is appropriate. It's stated as a fact. It's the copy-paste mindset that is so detrimental to practically everyone. Memorize a fact. Repeat it. You need to learn how to do a thing on the web. Use jQuery. Repeat it.

I find this didactic method deeply and morally repellent, even though I agree with the politics espoused.

When we take up the mantle of a teacher or mentor or leader, we have an obligation to lead people down a path of growth. Not browbeat them with ideology. This approach smacks to me of someone who doesn't understand what teaching really means.

Finally, I would bet money that the author has a different attitude about things today, and that we shouldn't sit around crucifying someone for an experiment they did 17 years ago. It was mostly harmless. We all make mistakes when we are writing and teaching. I make mistakes as a teacher almost every day. Sometimes more than once.

It's a good topic for thought, and even though I think it was the wrong move, it makes me question and think about my methods and the ways I relate to people. So maybe it wasn't so far off the path of leading-not-preaching as I thought.


How much more common is this type of person nowadays?

Using a technical book to engage in hamfisted virtue signalling is such incredible cringe!


Boy I love when people use the phrase "virtue signaling". It's the new "SJW", in the sense that it's a bullshit phrase used by a political side in what is almost always the result of projecting more than anything else.

It's so much easier than when the same sentiment is disguised and dressed up, so I know more immediately to roll my eyes and move on. Thanks.

edit: Sorry, I shouldn't have replied. Didn't realize this person had negative net karma.




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