Over the past couple of weeks, I've been contemplating making a submission urging HNers to be human, and to recognize that everyone else who comments here is also a human, and that stories about startups and notable figures are essentially about humans - humans who all have families, friends, ambitions, desires, flaws, struggles.
All too often I see people here forgetting about that. I myself have been guilty of it in the past too. But there's something about the negativity and criticism here that grates on me more than on other sites. I think people here tend to assume that being an engineer/programmer means that not only must they treat their code with utmost logic and rationality, but that they should look at life in the same manner - that to be an empathetic and emotional person puts them at some sort of optimizational and productive disadvantage. All that leads to is cold, harsh discourse and criticism without considering the more abstract, but very real ways humans feel and behave. It's sad to see.
So, I guess this is that submission. Next time you write a comment, ask yourself if you're being human and remind yourself that whatever you're about to say is directed at another human.
Stop being robots, and just act human.
Sometimes, this is completely appropriate, as when someone is using an anecdote as their only support in a vigorous debate, or when information is clearly being presented as factual, when it probably isn't. But as "Citation Needed" has become a rampant meme in its own right, I think it is increasingly applied in knee-jerk, cargo-cultish, and inappropriate ways.
Sharing anecdotes and experiences is one of the fundamental ways that humans share information about the myriad little nooks of the world that we move through. I know it isn't science. I'm quite well read on cognitive biases, statistics, and the scientific method; and I do not need to be reminded about these by HN commenters continually, every time somebody shares a story, or an opinion based on their experience.
I'm concerned about a chilling effect on the sharing of anecdotal information. There is information - information that I can use - in the many experiences related by others. I don't need or desire to get fully 100% of my information from peer-reviewed scientific studies. I know the difference between science and personal experience, and I would much rather bear the burden of telling the difference for myself, as the reader, than to have fewer people talking about their personal experiences.
The world is full of single data points. If you see an anecdote, see it as a data point, but more importantly, see it as a metaphor which could apply to your situation.
Sometimes I think some people wouldn't hug their kids until a study said it was ok (hrm, weren't there studies in the 50s saying you should do the opposite?). I'd like to think I'm rational, but sometimes you need to move beyond the cover-your-ass safety net of "the study says" and do what feels right. Citation? Here's a meta-study that most medical research studies are false (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1182327/).
The study you mention brings me to another point: In some cases the discussion here on HN revolves about believe systems, papers an references cited are often selected for an argument by authority. Moreover: would a paper in itself be enough? wouldn't you have to, critically follow through to the reviewing peers? concurring papers? This is indeed death of any discussion and it proves nothing in the end.
Typical thread of citations against citations: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3749114 but the debate is never coming beyond the point of "how do yo know this?" questions, masking "I don't like your point" as "you have no data backing this up".
Academic science is an entirely different story. It's a growing body, and it grows by using previous information in its body, so any probability of disruptive/wrong data entering the system has to be reduced as much as it can with strict discipline. To apply the same standard to our daily lives is absurd - you could as well be against spoken conversation because it's too lossy and converse using pen&paper - speech recognition is tricky after all.
This doesn't take much more than common sense to get - you could formalize it for specific cases statistically, maybe using shannon entropy and such - anectodal information is still information and the loss of information by virtue of not being backed up by scientific method is in most cases insignificantly low - just think of it as an efficient compression algorithm.
If you aren't ethically against lossy audio/image/text compression, there is no reason to take such a strict stance against anectodal information. Most times it's very useful, just have your rationality filter/bs detector and the like on at all times like they should be.
As Wikipedia shows us, assuming good faith is crucial to a civil discussion. There's a fine line on the internet between good faith and passive-aggressive behaviour, and in doubt you should always try to assume that that person asking for more info really is curious.
There are also times when, I believe, a reasonable person knows darn right well that the 'source' is the commenter's personal experience. In those cases, asking for a source looks like rhetorical mischief, only intended to discredit the person's point of view. "That's not science, therefore your comment has no value."
I'm suggesting that as 'citation needed' has become a cultural badge, it seems to be increasingly misused. All I'm hoping is that people will think twice: "Do I really reasonably expect that the information presented is a matter of fact, and sourced somewhere? Or am I using this community-accepted phrasing sardonically, as another way of saying, 'That's like, your opinion, man.'"
You are providing your own chilling effect by demanding others adhere to your personal standards.
When I was a student of software engineering, I felt strongly that there was not enough emphasis given to what effect the use of computers has on humans, and what sort of software we ought to make to benefit humans. This is related to Tim O'Reilly's call to "Work on Stuff that Matters" (http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/01/work-on-stuff-that-matters-...). It's not about the machine or the money -- we must add value to people's lives.
This is a different issue than that of being kind to each other on Hacker News, but I happen to think it is deeply related.
In some circumstances, I am spontaneous, playful, and extremely open to my environment and aware of other people. When I spend a lot of time programming, however, I tend to become more cautious, analytical, and insensitive. Partly this is because any time spent programming is, generally speaking, spent away from people and in ignorance of our bodies (and hence, our environments). This is one reason why I think it is so important for engineers to have diverse interests.
It's not just so that we will be kinder to each other on Hacker News. We are, in a very significant way, the people building the future. We need to make sure that we are in the right frame of mind to build a future we want to live in, and not one that is anti-social and inhumane.
Perhaps the reason dystopian sci-fi has so much resonance is because we are already experiencing, unconsciously, the dehumanizing effects of technology.
I re-read every post I write in my head, and pretend I'm saying it to the other person IRL who is sitting across the table from me. Would I use the same words? The same tone?
The internet is, in its current form, dehumanizing, you have to take care to maintain your own humanity and the humanity of the semi-anonymous non-faces you're interact with.
The negativity on HN doesn't bother me so much as the tone and language. Instead of criticizing, many posters here outright bash. Remember OMGPOP's sale to Zynga? The word "coward" got tossed around as if the company was staffed by an army of unfeeling Mecha-Hitlers.
One specific addendum: if your words come out sounding like something the comic book guy from the Simpsons would say, rewrite.
(I like this one. It's a lot more poetic than the "someone is WRONG on the INTERNET" one.)
The exact same handful of people, usually around five or so, talking about the same subjects, but with really different results.
So there's something about the forum or message board format that is dangerous, I think.
With live chat, of course, misunderstandings surface faster so you can correct or elaborate as needed, but I don't think that's the whole story. I think that somehow people read tone into the messages that isn't there. I'm not sure exactly why. Over-aggressive pattern matching maybe. You get an idea in your head around the first or second sentence and then fit the rest to that idea.
> But there's something about the negativity and criticism here that grates on me more than on other sites.
Honestly, I have had the opposite experience. Everyone here seems focused on getting work done and making great things, yes, but the little criticism that I do see is always well thought-out and explained. Instead of it 'grating' on me, I value it highly, because it's almost all of excellent quality.
> I think people here tend to assume that [...] to be an empathetic and emotional person puts them at some sort of optimizational and productive disadvantage.
Who? That's a foolish viewpoint that I cannot believe anyone here would hold. I haven't run across anyone who seems like they subscribe to this belief — have you?
There are a lot of aspects of the Human Condition that I'm not too fond of, so feel free to act inhuman with good intentions around me any time!
I, and I suspect many others, have subscribed to this belief. When working on purely technical problems, I find that there's no need to bring emotions in. There's just the problem, the problem, and nothing but the problem. When I bring emotions in, I lose focus on the technical aspects of the problem, which are all that I need to solve it.
I think keeping emotions out is an illusion.
The pendulum of 'responsibility' in our society has been swinging toward 'group' responsibility and away from 'personal' responsibility for a while now. The number of people who feel disenfranchised or held back or discriminated against, can reach further now with the Internet than at any time in the past. The combination of these two situations has as one of its outcomes and out pouring of emotion (generally hate) against the 'others.'
I realize that when the pendulum is heavily into the 'personal' side of responsibility those people are more likely to commit suicide rather than to spew vitriol. Clearly that is a bad place to be as well.
The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, where people take personal responsibility for their own challenges and the group takes responsibility for those things which are (or should be) beyond the responsibility of any one person. The canonical example is education, where the group should be responsible for making sure educational opportunities are available and the individuals should make sure they take advantage of all of the opportunities afforded them.
It is a new thing in the world that the meanest and foulest 10% of society have the ability to reach just as many people as the nicest and wisest 10%, I cannot predict the eventual impact of that fundamental change.
So yes, be more mindful that there's a person behind whatever you're responding to, and try to be polite, but at the same time don't hold back your opinions because you're afraid you might hurt someone's feelings.
I believe it is worthwhile to pursue and encourage this mindset, if I am wrong about something, I want to know about it, not be encouraged to pursue a path of questionable value purely because it might be perceived as mean to educate me.
I want to be treated this way and I want to treat others this way. It is not at all innately vicious or an excess of negative emotion, if anything its precisely the opposite, the complete absence of emotion.
Most internet boards are worse than this one, I see lots of comments elsewhere of people saying "you must be a retard" , "kill yourself" etc
Instead of being encouraging, you see a lot of pedantic nitpicking and subtle criticism
There's more criticism and less encouragement here partly because people here are just harder to impress on the whole.
The anti-humor thing can get annoying sometimes, although I'm glad it's not full of people posting "witty" variations on internet memes every other post. Sometimes you see a post that has an original and relevant joke or something that is meant tongue in cheek to just get downvoted to oblivion.
Tip: if those nitpickers are getting you down, imagine that it's Sheldon Cooper doing it :)
"INTJ (introversion, intuition, thinking, judgment) is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to refer to one of the sixteen personality types."
Ah, Myers-Briggs, a pyschometric system. I've read some criticism about it: (two excerpts)
An American woman, Katherine Briggs, bought Jung's book and was fascinated by it. She recommended it to her married daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, who had a degree in political science. The two of them got hooked on the idea of psychological metrics. Together they sat down and codified their own interpretation of Carl Jung, making a few important changes of their own. Jung had everyone fitting into one of four basic buckets. Myers and Briggs decided that each person probably combined elements, so they modified Jung's system and made it a little more complex, ending up with four dichotomies, like binary switches. Any combination of the four switches is allowed, and Myers and Briggs reasoned that just about every personality type could be well described by one of the sixteen possible ways for those switches to be set. Basically, according to Myers and Briggs, we're all represented by a four-digit binary number.
[...] the MBTI's practical use is overwhelmingly unscientific, and it's often criticized for this. Criticism ranges from the pragmatic fact that neither Jung nor Myers and Briggs ever employed scientific studies to develop or test these concepts, relying instead on their own observations, anecdotes, and intuitions; all the way to charges that your MBTI score is hardly more meaningful than your zodiac sign.
Just a few months ago, I bought an app from the Mac App Store. I became disenamored with the app due to a glaring fault. I regained consciousness about halfway through writing my negative review on the App Store (that'll be my excuse for getting as far as I did), with the thought, "Why don't I first email this guy and see if he'll fix it before writing this review?" So, I closed the review form and opened an email. Sure enough, he responded within the hour, and a new release came out the next week with my suggestion built in.
My next email to him was explaining why he should raise the price of his app. He was a real person.
The dangerous thing about this attitude though is that these people often underestimate what it takes for something to be created. You see this when politicians are eager to cut on education or when someone looks for a programmer to 'quickly implement their briliant new app'. Note that these people aren't necessarily dumb, but they've just never thought about what it takes for things to be built or designed.
Someone might rail against "all the preprocessed crap" that you can buy in a grocery store (and people do, all the time), with only the barest awareness that there are people involved in making those products, too. To people who are not software developers and don't know software developers, things like Google Search and Facebook and Microsoft Office might seem like they similarly spring up from within the bowels of huge companies, never really fully owned by any human who touches them, until they are released onto our computers as more cold, inhuman artifacts of the modern world.
Surely we here all know about the people behind the software, but most of us still don't think about the people behind the Oreos.
I think the real difference is that in one case you have someone watching a puree of HFCS, artificial thickeners, and almost-real-food slide down an assembly line following directions with little room for personal initiative, and in the other case you have people painstakingly writing code line by line, having to think carefully about each of them. There are a lot of people involved in manufacturing, but there isn't much thought and care compared to individual craftsmanship.
everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness, because it's so socially repulsive.... Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real....
The remedy he proposed:
[Instead:] if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line - maybe she's not usually like this; maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who's dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible - it just depends on what you want to consider.
What works for me sometimes in dealing with customer-service folk is to ask them what they would do in my position.
Wallace's hack is particularly cool because it uses the prefrontal cortex (over which you have at least some level of conscious control) to create stories that trick your limbic brain into generating the preferred emotional response.
I've seen this referred to as "riding an elephant", because the "rider" (the conscious mind) can skillfully manipulate the "elephant" (the bulk of the brain), but ultimately remains at the larger creature's mercy. Great image.
I actually read to do this in some silly self-help book (Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, perhaps?) years ago. It's helped a lot.
Really, we've all been there. In an absolute hurry. I don't necessarily imagine them in a scenario where the hurried pace is necessary; I just know that in the moment things feel far more urgent than they need to.
I think it's been answered pretty well by other people here w.r.t. the mixed reputation of self-help books, with a side of embarrassment for admitting I read one (which is really nothing to be embarrassed about).
Some of them lack science. Worse, some of them are actively anti-science.
I agree that there some great books, with useful helpful life-changing advice.
Highly recommended listening.
After that, it's harder to judge the teacher in question, knowing that there could've been any number of strains that led to a troublesome incident or poor performance report.
It isn't much different than how've question of how to evaluate coders. Any mechanism that can be easily proscribed can be easily gamed or is meaningless. Any mechanism that truly measures worth is extremely complex, doesn't scale, and may have issues with labor laws.
I wouldn't want that crap legislated by state legislatures, either.
I think this might be one reason why Apple's products are perceived differently, because the aesthetics are more apparent and that clues people into some aspect of the complexity behind the software.
There's a book that describes the effect in war. The basic premise is that it's easier to kill people by dropping a bomb on them from an airplane than it is to shoot them with a rifle on the battlefield.
It's because in the latter you see your victim. And immediately relate to that victim [edit: 1]. Which makes shooting him or her exceedingly difficult.
It's an interesting parallel.
The book is called On Killing, by US Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.
 Unless the shooter is psychotic.
Nitpick: You mean "psychopathic", not "psychotic". People with a psychotic illness are more likely to be victims of violence than the perpetrators of violence, and are much more likely to harm themselves than to harm another person.
I read somewhere (citation needed!) that the percentage of soldiers who deliberately fire their weapon at the enemy has increased from WWI to the Iraq conflict, which some put down to violence in movies and video games. After watching excellent Iraqi conflict documentaries like Restrepo and Armadillo (Danish movie) and seeing how soldiers react to conflict, there could be merit to that argument.
I also recall that snipers are trained by shooting watermelons - the impact of a high velocity round on a watermelon is not too dissimilar to an impact on a human head. Snipers see the carnage in all its gory detail because of their magnified scope so it's necessary to desensitise them in training.
Edit: slo-mo watermelon getting shot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iO3XsZpOiBA
And yet the rate of violent crime continues to go down, bear-baiting and dogfights have gone from national pass-times to illegal aberrations, and dueling is pretty much extinct.
"Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority ... It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation -- and their ideas from suppression -- at the hand of an intolerant society."
http://groklaw.net/articlebasic.php?story=20051007151046741 (The First Amendment Right to Anonymous Speech - Delaware Supreme Court Ruling in John Doe No. 1 v. Cahill)(2005-OCT-15)
I would consider this half-true. As Marshall McLuhan said: "the medium is the message". What is communicated is defined by the complete sum of the experience of the receiver, which includes subtle nuances of how that message is packaged.
That said, I agree with your core point.
>Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.
Thanks again, Vonnegut.
I might have gasped out loud.
One of the inevitable consequences of the digital revolution will be that, there will come a time, when a controversial book will be published exclusively in digital format with no physical copies to burn. I don't know if this necessarily good or bad, but the fact that idiots can't burn a book will provide me some amount of pleasure.
1) There won't be any smoke. At least now we can see the act and know of it. It will be much more invisible when someone can just enter a phrase into a lookup table that ultimately filters packets.
2) Not only will the book be censored but any discussion of the book being censored will be censored. Invisibly.
But I assume you're referring more to examples such as this story, of small groups using book-burning as a publicity stunt, or a public symbol of their rejection of the work. In those cases, I doubt the lack of physicality makes any difference; if they wanted to protest a digital-only book, they'd simply print it out on something flammable first.
1. Enter a Book Title
2. Pull text of first chapter from Amazon
3. Animate flames around the words burning.
4. Provide FB and Twitter links to share your burned book.
"There's more than one way to burn a book." - Kurt Vonnegut.
While it may no longer be possible to literally burn a book in that scenario, censorship is alive and well on the web.
The word itself causes no harm. Tell a child a curse word they don't know and they aren't stricken back as if you had slapped them. It has no meaning or value until you describe what it means and when to use it. Then once it's explained to them, assuming they weren't harangued by their parents into fearing the word itself, there's the use in a book such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:
"Oh, yes, this is a wonderful govment, wonderful. Why, looky here. There was a free nigger there from Ohio – a mulatter, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever see..."
Contrast this with a book like Where The Red Fern Grows, where a boy's dog (who he loves dearly) is disemboweled in front of him and he has to literally stuff his intestines back into the dog's bloody carcass.
If the high purpose is indeed to protect children they should be taught about the world so they'll know how to deal with it. Sure, there's ugly things about the world and for the most part we try to isolate ourselves from it, but burning it doesn't make it go away. The end result may be it enforces in the child the idea that they can choose to destroy any part of society they dislike, regardless of anyone else's opinion and without a reason other than their feelings. Personally I can't think of anything more frightening.
Presumably Vonnegut kept the draft, or kept the original and sent McCarthy the one copy. The letter's text was later included in Vonnegut's book, Palm Sunday, as mentioned on the site.
The "Monkeysphere" explains a huge amount of silly human behavior.
I have not read Kurt Vonnegut, but was intrigued by the specific reference to him as the main character's favorite author, a certain kind of twisted high praise in the context of the book as a whole. I have not heard much about Kurt Vonnegut beyond recognizing the name and the Ready Player One reference. But reading this letter, and with the added bonus of the implied recommendation from Ernest Cline, I've heard enough.
Where's the best place to start?
Here are the grades Vonnegut himself gave his own books (in Palm Sunday):
Cat’s Cradle: A+
The Sirens of Titan: A
Mother Night: A
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: A
Player Piano: B
Welcome to the Monkeyhouse: B-
Breakfast of Champions: C
Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons: C
Palm Sunday: C
Happy Birthday, Wanda June: D
Anyone have access to Factiva or LexisNexis?
EDIT: Oh, you mean you took him literally, that he didn't even have his own copy. Well:
"And no copies of this letter have been sent to anybody else. You now hold the only copy in your hands."
It sounds like this could imply that he could be holding onto a copy himself. Interesting point, why would you do that if you didn't mean to exploit it, at least eventually? Or maybe he just likes to hold on to things for records.
It's obviously the most likely explanation but still, it perhaps stretches what might be considered usual for the period.
(Note to self: Don't skip the italicized, parenthetical text before an interesting piece of content)
It is no different than you sending an email to someone saying, "I'm sending this note to you alone rather than posting this publicly, ..."
As for why he would keep a copy: no different than why you keep copies of your emails. Should the recipient respond, he'll have his original to reference if the person responding takes items out of context, attributes statements not actually made to Vonnegut, amongst other benign or nefarious mistakes.
The reason why we should not burn books is because
- it deprives potential readers of the benefit of reading them
- the free circulation of ideas is the cornerstone of a free society, and trying to restrict it is the beginning of tyranny
- arguments should be fought with arguments, not fire
But the feelings of authors really don't have anything to do with it. KV shouldn't have felt insulted that someone burnt his books. He should have been ashamed for the human race that anyone would burn any book (and not just his own). He should have punched the guy in the face.
I think there's no similar action analogous to burning books online, so people inclined to do so are left to other kinds of action, like writing angry comments and blog posts.
SOPA/PIPA comes to mind.
"in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him"
It's harder to accuse someone, or even insult or disparage them, when you have to face them. And that is something that should be hard to do.
Suffice it to say, I was sufficiently confused as well.
>You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive.
A great way of saying that if you don't learn on your own to discern good from bad, you will never learn to do it, and learning requires exposure to all sides.
Tell me you don't buy this?
I was depressed for weeks when he died.
If Kurt is an American, Kurt must allow book burning.
If you are an American, you must not down vote.
After I have said all this, I am sure you are still ready to respond, in effect, “Yes, yes–but it still remains our right and our responsibility to decide what books our children are going to be made to read in our community.” This is surely so. But it is also true that if you exercise that right and fulfill that responsibility in an ignorant, harsh, un-American manner, then people are entitled to call you bad citizens and fools. Even your own children are entitled to call you that.