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    I think I now understand why the beast of a Software Architecture project for my university stood out so much. It was about running a hospital, allocating resources and people, taking into account working hours of the doctors and holidays etc. It was, in a very broad sense, software for people! Also very apolitical.

    I’ve also come to realize that’s why I like my job so much. It’s not the exiting AI stuff I studied so hard for, but we’re making workplaces safer and provide ways to hold corporations accountable.

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      I think I agree with the first person who wrote him a letter. There is a difference between finding more novel and varied examples and picking examples designed to goad your readers.

      Please in the future, remember that we, the book buyers, are looking for information about using PL/SQL. I am as tired of the emp and dept tables as you are, but less distracting examples would have been more appropriate.

      Everyone has a political view and sometimes that arises legitimately in technology but I think it’s just basic self-control to express your political view only where it really might help something.

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        The dude’s point is that we all have a political perspective, and we’re expressing it, either explicitly or implicitly. He chose to express his explicitly through the examples in his textbook.

        If you write a database text and fill it with department / employee type examples, shopping examples, and so forth, then you are implicitly promoting a capitalist world view, the same world view that does not bat an eye when using degrading terms like “human resources”. At least here in the US, this sort of thing goes unquestioned, because of the dominant ideology.

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          Yes, it’s implicit, it’s unquestioned and nobody bats an eye - and that’s why it makes for better examples.

          Examples require the use of social territory. That territory can be either unquestioned good or questioned territory. When choosing examples in questioned territory, you engage in active cultural participation; when choosing examples in unquestioned territory, you engage in passive cultural participation. Examples should engage in passive participation, because that way they are relatable to the greatest number of readers.

          (You can also use unquestioned bad territory, such as defining a database schema to count Jews in the Holocaust for the Nazis, but then nobody will buy your book.)

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            I don’t see why “nobody bats an eye” is a desirable quality for examples or why “active cultural participation” is a bad thing.

            It’s not at all clear to me that the examples given are not relatable or that “relatable to the greatest number of readers” should even be a core value. Perhaps provocative examples engage readers more and cause them to think about the examples more.

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              Would be curious how you’d feel if it were something sorting countries by iq or something.

              Would you be happy to be engaged, or be distracted by a thinking about testing methodology and things like that?

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                I’d have to see it in context to find out how I’d react. IQ is strongly related to class and similarity to the people who devised the test, and such a table might be part of a demonstration of that.

                Certainly if an example just seemed pointlessly offensive I would think less of the author and maybe choose a different textbook.

                But I think equating a hypothetical very racist example with some examples that are a bit left of centre in the USA is unfair.

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                  A substantial amount of political dispute in the English speaking world is precisely about what speech counts as racist and therefore legitimately stigmatizable. Using data that implies that cognitive capacity is meaningfully different between different countries of the world in a programming example constitutes a political assertion that this idea is not stigmatizable; in the same way that the article’s example about a war criminal database constitutes a political assertion about how people should see Henry Kissinger.

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              But now you’ve thought about it, so it has become active participation. From now on you are obliged to make sure your examples completely apolitical.

              Consider engineers have a code of ethics, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_the_Engineer

              If your work includes producing examples they should “serve humanity”. I cannot conscientiously make examples that promote capitalism, but giving examples that might make people think about world affairs would be okay.

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                Yes, it’s implicit, it’s unquestioned and nobody bats an eye - and that’s why it makes for better examples.

                That assumes a lot from the readership. For a mundane, apolitical example, I submit children to this discussion. For most my childhood due to various reasons, I only had access to a Pentium. It didn’t have a network connection, and I eventually installed Linux on it. Because Linux made it so easy to code, I would try to check out books from the library and learn how to write code, but all the examples were completely unrelatable to me as a pre-teen. Employee this, business that, I realized even at the time that the examples were meant to be highly relatable to practitioners, but I honestly found math much more interesting than these soulless books because I was unable to relate to them in any way. That was one of the big reasons I started out coding by trying to write games; game programming books felt much more relatable to me as a kid who read a lot of books and played video games than these soulless books about employee hierarchies and recipes.

                Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the conditions that make something unpolitical are pretty restricted in context. Someone growing up in a developing country or a country with a very different economic ideology will probably find these staid business examples just as unrelatable as children. International editions of textbooks frequently do change examples for exactly this reason.

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              Everyone has a political view and sometimes that arises legitimately in technology but I think it’s just basic self-control to express your political view only where it really might help something.

              I am totally with you on this, and do my best to keep my political perspectives away from the technology work I do as much as I can. I have worked on projects with ethical/political considerations (whether someone might consider a few of these projects ethical depends on their personal political leanings.) Definitely a touchy subject.

              That being said, I have a really hard time empathizing with the readers who wrote in to complain that the examples are too distracting. I believe a database book aught to have concrete examples while teaching the abstract concepts (e.g. it’s a book about writing databases in general, not “how to keep track of war criminals”). My own personal reaction to the examples talked about are “ok, whether I agree with the premise or not, these examples have interesting abstract concepts that they’re illustrating.” There are lots of systems that exist in this world whose existence I fundamentally disagree with, but where I’d also love to pop the hood and figure out how they work!

              In fact, as I sat here thinking about this, I started wondering if, for me, this style of examples might actually help cement specific concepts with easy mental look-up keys; I can imagine coming to a database design problem and thinking “oh, this is like the Kissinger problem.”

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              I wholeheartedly support the use of more interesting–and perhaps even strongly biased political–examples in educational texts. SQL tutorials for example are super dry.

              That said…let’s not pretend for a second that anything right of center-left wouldn’t get slammed in the popular tech discourse.

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                I was thinking something similar. When he brought up topics in his examples, I tried to imagine an example but mirrored about the mythical political center. I tried to imagine if those examples would be taken as just spicier examples, or would be interpreted as excluding those left of political center.

                Imagine for example:

                • calculations to determine exactly the income a Walmart greeter brings to a store
                • unions as negative forces on job mobility in a workforce
                • positive role of capitalists in society
                • police effects on lowering violence
                • NATO preventing worldwide war (I imagine this to be the direct mirror of the example given)
                • insurance shopping across state lines
                • idiocies espoused by gun control groups
                • management problems in public prisons
                • the positive result of tax cuts on disposable income

                All of these mirror the examples cited. I can’t imagine a book with these examples being published in 2021.

                More importantly, given two books on similar technologies, would the choice between them be made after considering the examples?

                Can there be examples which still manage to be apolitical and not dry?

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                  Can there be examples which still manage to be apolitical and not dry?


                  • Calculations of how big a 1700’s town would have to be to produce enough rags to support a papermill
                  • Historical secret societies
                  • Role of firefighters in society
                  • Regulations on clowns and street performers
                  • Tracking tagged wildlife migrations
                  • Sports and other hobbies
                  • Stalking a D-list celebrity, but written so extreme it becomes funny
                  • Museum registries
                  • Pseudoscience scholarship
                  • Underground music genres

                  Free riffing at 2 AM. Political examples aren’t primarily about being engaging, they’re about making a point. Note the problem with his war criminal example wasn’t that he was making a war crime database, it was calling Henry Kissinger a war criminal.

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                    Can there be examples which still manage to be apolitical and not dry?

                    Maybe? I mean, you could argue that space exploration is in some measure political, but support/opposition doesn’t seem to be concentrated on one partisan side, at least in the US.

                    But I just worked through this book and the examples were a both a lot of fun and, IMO, not political in the same sense as “Kissinger is a war criminal” or “The NRA is harmful to society” is political.

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                    “You are a director of state security tasked with the internment of dissidents and their eventual disposal…”

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                      That said…let’s not pretend for a second that anything right of center-left wouldn’t get slammed in the popular tech discourse.

                      You’re not exactly wrong; I mostly just lack any real sympathy for this point because I think your politics are obviously bad.

                      That said, as long as it’s couched in standard-issue managerial technocracy, consumers of technical books tend to pass over implicitly rightwing ideological content without batting an eye. I’m not going to advocate for overtly politicizing every technical text, but let’s not kid ourselves about where nearly the entire practice of technology is situated in relation to the management and the owning classes. Surface-level culture war positioning and affiliations with political parties are one thing, economic and structural reality another. Mostly, we serve power, and the documentation reflects it.

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                        I think your politics are obviously bad.

                        I’d love to hear, in PM, what exactly you think my politics are, and why you think they’re bad.

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                          (I should probably just have upvoted this one instead of basically rewriting it.)