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Don’t submit to conformity (unixsheikh.com)
85 points by kilodeca 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 68 comments

> Much of technology is pure fact

I think there are actually very few bedrock facts in computing - a program executing as intended on a CPU is fact. Nearly everything else is culture or opinion, including the programming language that produced the program.

When you get to the level of arguments about programming languages, tools, web development, software architectures, etc this is all discussion in the realm of the mostly subjective, with perhaps a side reference to facts when something is actually not achievable. The most wonderful thing about computing is that it’s pure castles in the air, and that if you’re sufficiently motivated you can build the whole castle. The most dreadful thing about computing is that it’s pure castles in the air and you have few real facts to anchor your arguments to.

And one of the hardest things in software engineering at scale, is organizing and coralling humans and groups of humans, possibly over many years with everyone involved being replaced at some point throughout, to somehow still cooperate enough that the end-product is attainable. Someone like Linus is more of a politician than an engineer, in some ways.

> The most wonderful thing about computing is that it’s pure castles in the air, and that if you’re sufficiently motivated you can build the whole castle. The most dreadful thing about computing is that it’s pure castles in the air and you have few real facts to anchor your arguments to.

The most harm being done to this industry — a world of a trillion floating castles — is by those pretending their castles are founded, never revealing the Big Secret, all while fervently demanding would-be competition fully justify their most minute castle-building minutia down to asking which grain of sand is the Seed of Truth, upon which anyone would DARE build a castle in the air.

One day, Intelligence will build itself a castle, and it will not be in the air.

I think I should like to go build a boat, and study something with a more solid foundation, like quantum physics or Jazz.

> "a program executing as intended on a CPU is fact"

processor bugs, power glitching, cosmic rays,...

Processor bugs, power glitching, and cosmic rays affecting how the CPU executes a program are still in the domain of facts. Nothing says that facts must lead to deterministic outcomes, though we should have a way to quantify the distribution of outcomes in order to help us distinguish facts from opinions.

The quote includes the phrase "as intended," which is important here.

Yeah, otherwise the statement in essence would just be, its a fact that whatever happens, happens. While i don't disagree, its not a particularly interesting claim without the "as intended"

Let me give you a set of basic, specific operational facts that I discerned a few years ago.

NFS as a protocol engages in clear text transfers of filesystem data between the client and server.

I had some experience with stunnel, and I found a way to push NFS traffic through it, forcing either aes-gcm or (with TLS 1.3), chacha20-poly1305.

The method and complaint that I raised was heard by protocol maintainers, and resulted in a draft RFC to embed TLS at the RPC level, extending encryption to all RPC services beyond NFS.

I also later found notes of the NFSv4.2 approval suggesting that TLS should be added, but it was not. That fell to me.

I don't think that this was subjective.

If I google "onc RPC encryption," I find: https://tools.ietf.org/id/draft-ietf-nfsv4-rpc-tls-01.html

"Special mention goes to Charles Fisher, author of "Encrypting NFSv4 with Stunnel TLS" . His article inspired the mechanism described in this document."

If I google "NFS encryption," I find me: https://www.linuxjournal.com/content/encrypting-nfsv4-stunne...

I think that it was worth the effort. It was in the back of my mind for some time, and I probably should have been more motivated to do it, for the impact it had.

The author means that technology is deterministic. Those castles aren't fantasy once the idea of them is implemented: they are behaviors of mechanisms which could be measured, poked, and prodded.

Aesthetic revulsion at software bloat is the intuitively derived conclusion of logically derived facticity.

I heard this today:

Walt Whitman wrote, "Be curious, not judgemental."

Strange at first to think of "judgemental" the opposite of "curious", but it becomes clear after a moment of thought. Judgemental already knows, already sees exactly what the truth is, whereas curious is willing to be vulnerable, to consider the possibility that those ideas currently held might be worth dropping, even if they've been clasped for a long time.

Seems a lot to me that conformity of thought leads to judgemental action. Reasoning and consideration are out the window, because contradictory notions threaten not just the idea under test, but the social standing associated with the belief forged by conformity.

Thank you for sharing these insightful views. Somehow people who are uninformed and exhibit being judgemental to any new idea get prominent positions. The act of 'showing unwillingness to change' as default behavior is also personal it seems. If some external company proposes breaking changes it's suddenly good.. all uninformed but suddenly acceptable. These Service Owners have been instructed to always give credit to outsiders never to coworkers with equal or better solutions without the fanfare and additional business relationships which makes them feel and look good. Human behavior of numb and mindless people can become quite dangerous history has shown and still these kind of patterns are promoted.

I am a natural contrarian, have built multiple libraries[1][2] that go directly against the grain of most web development today and my companies catch phrase is "We find hot new industry trends & then do the opposite of that..."

So I am sympathetic to the article.

However, as with all things, there is an aristotelian mean here: it is OK and in fact virtuous to attempt to conform to some extent with those around you. Humans are social animals, and going against the grain full bore at all times can wear you out, lose you friends and influence, and is often ineffective for affecting change.

You are often better off going with the grain to some extent and then using some jujitsu to push your contrarian ideas.

To pick a practical example at random: mention your contrarian libraries in a defense of conformity.

[1] - https://intercooler.js

[2] - https://htmx.org

I agree with you, but I think the problem is more about the conflation in some people’s minds of conformity vs correctness. It’s fine to conform as long as doing so is close to optimal, or the cost of conforming to a non optimal solution is low. It works the other way too: sometimes conforming is simply cheaper than optimal, due to existing processes etc.

I often get credit for being right more often than not, but actually I just try to be a disciplined thinker and to understand the problem well enough to be able to make informed decisions. But I also get called a troublemaker for the same reason.

Drives me nuts. Isn’t trying to find the right answer actually the point?

When egos get involved it’s not the right answer that counts but the answer that makes one look good. People might say they care about data and facts but what they really care for is data that reinforces their ideas

Depends on a person. Many will change their views if it opportunistically benefits them. Hypocrisy is rule rather than exception.

Even more people in power are not slaves to PR, just use it where needed.

Conformity and publicity are only a leaky barrier.

The critical part is discerning truthiness from truth.

Usually a truthy sounding statement will have a set of heavy underlying assumptions. Typical examples include ideologies and economics.

There's also a class of statements that cannot be reasonably verified, mostly pertaining to society and social organization. There, truth really does not exist unless someone (or nature) runs an experiment. Most ways of organizing society are valid, though some are mean/evil. Then again, some other ways are clearly hypocritical, illogical or demonstrably highly inefficient.

It's true, but worse is also better; of reasonable answers, the “right” one is often the one that will be popular enough for people to rearrange the world (sometimes retroactively) to make it right.

Trying to find the right answer often isn't the point.

Social forces often dominant decision making.

Social forces are not like natural forces, they're a result of an aggregate of many decisions, especially historical ones, of powerful people.

One does not have to bend to that, if they have enough power. (Can even defy laws, sometimes, which are decisions codified.) That's how society changed in the past and changes today.

Yes, masses can also wield power to defy social order.

It is one thing to have a choice. The society demands that we conform. That just makes me want to not conform even more.

my recommendation is to take that non-conformance out to a second or third order

first order non-conformance may be tolerable depending on your personality, but second order or third order non-conformance can be immensely enjoyable and the people who get it will get it

https://intercooler.js/ is down.

Curiously, trying to verify on "is down for everyone or just me" tools appears to break them.

People get this idea in their heads somewhere in their teens to early twenties, and they start to 'think for themselves!' but often what they've done is scrapped a common majority set of ideals, for localized, usually contrarian ones.

Nirvana had a 4th band member (Jason Everman) who quit because according to Dave Grohl, he thought 'the punk scene was too conformist!' - i.e. you had to dress a certain way, act a certain way, hold specific beliefs or else you were 'uncool'.

In other words: Punk Wasn't Punk! It could be argued it was a counter-cultural/mainstream movement, but a very specific and narrow one at that.

And so he joined the Army and became special forces.

Not much insight in this article.

But this is a major issue. It's spooky being around the group-think in the Bay Area these days.

A high % of bay area techies would rather look like they're doing the right thing than actually do the right thing. And we're see the consequences of such play out.

Doing the right thing is a cost with few benefits, apparently.

If it were free or obviously short term beneficial to them, they would be doing it after all.

This includes LGBT issues, global warming, racism, elitism and so on.

It sounds like the author has a particular argument in mind but is refusing to say what it is.

> A popular synonym to what the majority is doing is "the modern way", or sometimes it is even called "best practice", which can be quite misleading because then best practice really becomes stupid practice.

Which practice, exactly? The term, best practice, is sometimes used naively but it does have a meaning and refers to the collective body of knowledge we sometimes call, the state of the art. Software has a state of the art. The folks at the IEEE try to maintain a published version of their collection of these practices in a guide called, SWEBOK [0]. If you look you will probably find others.

When someone is not being clear and they use the term, "best practice," it's often far too easy to tell if they're simply regurgitating what they've heard from someone else or if they're referring to the state of the art. A few leading questions will often put you on the right course.

I don't think this is harmful. It's easy to let someone get their idea across, ask them questions, and if you think they're ignorant then point them to the right place where they can learn more.

> Never ever follow or submit to conformity just because that is what the majority or someone popular is doing!

I think best practices are important. It's how we push the boundaries of our work and figure out, collectively as an industry, what works and what doesn't. We've known for a long time that unrestricted use of untagged pointers is bad, we have developed a large body of work that supports this case, and research has happened which is enabling us to move forward... with the state of the art. We can use formally verified compilers, separation logic, language tools available in Rust, linear types in Haskell and Idris2 -- nothing is stopping you from using such C-style pointers, but we have better ways to working with them.

Some sometimes you totally should do what other people are doing. Especially if they've been doing their homework and publishing their results and having them reviewed by peers. Like the age-old advice: don't write your own crypto. That's a best-practice.

[0] https://www.computer.org/education/bodies-of-knowledge/softw...

Update: forgot to add the link, clarity on state of pointers

Social media has made non-conformity an entitled privilege, Even staying away from them is a privilege.

One who has to find a job on LinkedIn cannot be a non-conformist and not upload their profile photo because profile photo causes biases[1].

It's near impossible to survive as a solopreneur without a twitter account and decent number of followers especially if there is no prior network.

And in social media conformism is the name of the game, You say what your followers want to hear and not they need if you want those likes, shares etc. The author doesn't use social media.

P.S. I read HN on my kindle, The text only website loads beautifully on kindle - https://twitter.com/heavyinfo/status/1414840757161136128?s=2...

In my 27 years of software development, almost every time I've heard someone say "best practices" it's because they are simply appealing to authority--a famous blogger, Gartner, etc.--rather than knowing anything about the underlying abstractions or reasoning.

Software development, especially nowadays, is far more art than science. Do "best practices" apply to art? Should they?

For me, the phrase is pure corporate jargon nonsense.

> Do "best practices" apply to art?

Yes, at least partially.

We have known solutions for many things - one can buy paper/paint/pencils, there is some standard toolbox how to sculpt marble, how to fire clay, how to draw a realistic picture...

Some art pieces are done by ignoring parts of that and doing something new but basically all art is using at least some.

To me "best practice" == above average, or someone referencing it because they don't actually know the reason for what they're arguing for.

What is the point of this article? Everyone knows that, it’s what we teach children. I at least expected some examples but it’s just a rant.

Excuse me, it looks like there was one example. The intrepid brain who wrote the blog post apparently doesn’t want to conform to best practices of web design, so their blog is a chore to read on mobile.

Samsung's Internet browser has a neat "make this viewer friendly" function in the URL bar that worked a charm here.

Maybe everyone in America “knows” this already, but it’s an alien concept in much of Europe and Asia.

Meh, often the majority view is the majority view for a reason. Certainly there are exceptions, but if you don't know what to do, following the crowd is a decent rule of thumb. At the very least you'll have the same issues as everyone else, so you won't get blamed. Nobody ever got fired for choosing ibm.

> At the very least you'll have the same issues as everyone else, so you won't get blamed.

IME, the corollary of this is even more important: They'll have solutions ready-at-hand.

> A popular synonym to what the majority is doing is "the modern way"

I am so very tired of people using the adjective "modern" as an abbreviation for "if you're not doing it this way you are stupid and obsolete".

This attitude is what brought us gems like WebUSB, PulseAudio, and xdg-open.

I believe that this is a core problem with the human condition. Humans naturally imitate others subconsciously. We are herd animals. For example, people will get in line for a show, just because there is already a line for it, without even knowing what it is.

And in general most rationalizations people make come after the fact. Including things like software architecture. Everyone is using React so I have to use React. But wait, now all the cool people are using Svelte, so that must be th way.

But the hardest part is that those social considerations as I said are not conscious. They go on in the background pushing the rationalizations without people even knowing.

But the worst part is when this stuff gets official with things like 'best practices'. Which are usually just rationalizations for doing what most people are already doing.

In my experience this article summarize the most important rule of being a creative and free thinking individual. Well phrased, and easy to remember, and most important, an excellent advise.

The author contradicts themselves at least three times in this article.

Going against social conformity can be dangerous. You should not do it unless you have fully thought out the consequences [to yourself and others] and weighed them.

Yes. Conform by default then deviate when you understand why things are that way seems like a safer approach. "Because everyone else is stupid" doesn't count as understanding.

I think an important aspect that pieces like this gloss over is actually how to go about starting to think like this. If you're someone who's actually spent their entire lives living in a conformist approach, it might not be that easy to simply unlearn this overnight and start to see the world in a totally different way. Also applies for learning how to work through engineering or design problems from a first principles approach.

I would recommend studying people who quit cults and religions; those who disavowed conspiracy theories; former extremists; people who changed or removed ideology of their life.

It's a process.

You need a motivation or two for that. Telling people to non-conform ain't that. Motivation may be innate or externally influenced, but need to be concrete.

In any group of people, some problems are social problems.

If the leader of the group makes a decision, it is your responsibility to conform whether you agreed with it or not.

And if YOU are a leader, social cohesion is important. “A leader without followers is merely taking a walk.”

Yes, facts are important. But they’re not enough on their own.

Alternatively: Stop worrying so much about what other people on the internet want you to do.

Why limit it to people on the internet?

I'd say pick 3-4 people who are sensible, and pretty much ignore the rest of the people on the planet.

Nobody's always right

Vote for nobody.

Subvert the dominant paradigm.

We have a name for people who don’t care at all what other people think: sociopaths. It’s healthy to give at least some weight to that input.

It’s not about not caring what other people think, it’s about making sure that what they think applies to your situation.

Like the article says, lots of people get rich promoting very bad advice.

That is true, but you have to be careful. Coming up with stories about why you are in the right, despite incoming social signals you are in the wrong, is a hallmark of narcissistic personality disorder. It’s a good reason to be careful who your friends are, since their opinions will shape who you become.

First, You are conflating sociopathy with narcissism. They are two different disorders that are commonly seen together. Secondary, you have a very narrow understanding of sociopathy.

Society, as it is, is not the end all be all. What is socially acceptable, and what is not, is always evolving. People who were right, are now wrong, vice versa. I think people should prioritize selfishness and educating themselves. Don't be a slave, and question your own thinking patterns and habits. 90% of the comments are people not thinking for themselves. This article brought this issue to light quite vibrantly... Cheers.

When did I conflate them? I mentioned them separately in different contexts, and that wasn’t by accident. And where’s your support that I have a shallow understanding of it? You’ve made a few accusations here that don’t seem related to what I said. I also never implied society is the end-all-be-all.

I thought sociopaths were the people who don't care what other people feel. By your definition, I'm afraid, I always wanted to become a sociopath.

If you worry about that, you're probably not having the issue:


It's not even a choice to conform most of the time. Society enforces norms.

Even if you're correct in your non-conforming views, and society is wrong, like so many scientists in history, you will be rejected.

Society much prefers conformity over accuracy.

no one sees the irony of this appearing on a site designed to maximize eyeball exposure?

It doesn't help that there are many out there who are cocksure (they did the research and found all the blogs supporting their theories) that Covid is spread by Bill Gates and his 5G antennas, that Biden stole the election with the help of China, the earth is flat, steel beams, etc, etc. And of course these blogs teach "critical thinking" by telling them anyone saying otherwise is in the grand conspiracy.

I tried to fix a Covid-"truther", her mind was so warped she doesn't even believe in germ theory, she started by reading blogs about nutrition, when some of these got banned by Google for spreading misinformation, the blogs claim Google is involved with big pharma/big agriculture trying to keep humanity from eating healthy. She told me to use DuckDuckGo, I told her "you know they use results from Bing, which is from Microsoft?" (Although in reality BG isn't involved with Microsoft any more). She basically dismissed this bit of information, because hello confirmation bias!

So I don't think telling people to use their brains is enough...

Your caricature of a typical (or at least prevalent) person who has objections to the dominant Covid narratives suggests your depth of inquiry into the subject is limited to a few sources as well. In fairness, it may be that a lot of the more "out-there" people are more willing to discuss their views; since rational people will see it's pretty much a losing proposition to be open about such things in the current climate. Personally it's the only climate-change i'm hoping for.

You can't force people to think the way you want them to think or believe the things you want them to believe. Not ethically, anyway.

So if their way of thinking is flawed (e.g. if their cognitive dissonance makes them refuse to accept actual facts, like the fact the world is a sphere), I should just leave it at that? Geez, at the end of the day that's what I mostly do anyway, but what a way to a fractured society.

199% agree

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