1. 1

    I don’t get the impression that the new users themselves are to blame. I think that the problem is the size of the community and the resulting “diversity” - discord / lack of consensus on purpose and values.

    My proposal to temporarily reduce active user count specifically aimed at letting the old-timers here settle on what they want the site to be like, and then gradually re-introduce the userbase, taking care to maintain the consensus they achieved.

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      @friendlysock, the post in question was going to be problematic regardless of our community health at the moment it was posted. Just look at the vote counts you highlighted. Crustaceans clearly have strong feelings about that company.

      That being said… yes, this would be a good time to inoculate new comers, re-inoculate old-timers, and push out those that resist.

      …I don’t know how to reply or otherwise respond to the chronologically first comment on your post. I have many skills, but not-making-it-worse is not one of them. Help? I want to say something like “No, just no. We’re doing a thing here. Watch us and do like us, or leave.”

      1. 11

        @friendlysock, the post in question was going to be problematic regardless of our community health at the moment it was posted. Just look at the vote counts you highlighted. Crustaceans clearly have strong feelings about that company.

        Having strong feeling is one thing, knowing which places are good to discuss them is another. It seems to me that with each passing month more and more people think that lobste.rs is good place to discuss anything they find interesting/important.

        Part of the problem, is that there are no explicit content rules - it’s hard to ask others to stop posting any kind of content if there are no guidelines what is and isn’t accepted here.

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          One part of @friendlysock’s post struck me:

          This site is for practicing technologists and for people trying to learn about technology and better themselves as engineers and developers.

          I think it would be helpful if this or something similar was added to the story submitting guidelines on the Submit Story page. It would be more explicit than the current “if no tags apply, your story is off-topic” suggestion.

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            Keep in mind, that is @friendlysock’s line, not an “official” Lobsters policy. I happen to agree with them, but I think that the truth is closer to @tt’s remark that this has always been a “place to discuss anything [the users] find interesting/important. Unspoken rules have but little force.

            1. 3

              It’s his view, not Lobsters’. I think, could be misremembering, there used to be more people agreeing with his view. The submissions were consistent with it when I came in. The votes went the other way in a later meta after they did for representative threads and comments. I’m guessing most people doing mass invite brought in people like them. Most of people that came in have the newer leanings about political posts. There were many before, though.

              Now, the majority opposes friendlysock’s position in day-to-day use of the site, votes, and comments. It’s why my welcomes that use the What Lobsters Is and Isn’t write-up don’t say it’s our rules or official policy: I just encourage them to focus on What Lobsters Is for high-quality, technical submissions that will be well-received by people focused on that.

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              This only makes sense if that actually is the sole purpose of the site, but I don’t believe there’s agreement on that point, despite @friendlysock continually speaking as if there is, and as if he speaks for the community as a whole.

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                for people trying to learn about technology and better themselves as engineers and developers.

                In particular, the implication that bettering yourself as an engineer is unrelated to understanding the ethical implication of your work is deeply disturbing to me.

                1. 8

                  Do you believe that the posts in question actually furthered our understanding of the ethical implications of the work? To me, it read more like low effort shaming, or an attempt to stroke a sense of moral superiority.

                  Out of all ethical discussions on this site, what portion do you think further our understandings of ethical implications?

                  1. 4

                    That is not the implication I get at all. What I read is that “understanding the ethical implication of our work” is something we could agree to do elsewhere.

                    1. 2

                      I don’t see how what you said can be true without what I said.

                      If understanding ethical implication of your work is part of being a better engineer, then it’s a suitable topic for a site whose purpose is “trying to […] better themselves as engineers”.

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              Ethics are inseparable from technology, since technology enables and inhibits actions, which are subject to ethical consideration; ergo, the creation of technology is an set of actions subject to ethical judgements.

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                I’d go even further than that, attempting to exclude “ethics”, broadly construed, has helped to enable a social environment within technology circles that has legitimated a great deal of what people are now rightly reacting to, the surveillance, the effects the brain of using gambling machines as a design template for websites, the unwillingness of corporations to take any responsibility whatsoever for the effects that their products have on society at large, Uber (all of it), and on and on.

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                  I agree with both of you. On the other hand, I also kinda see the point of wanting a space that’s focused in technical aspects, and understand OP’s fear of ethical/political discourse dominating this forum. And in the other other hand, I also feel that not speaking about the ethics of technologies, and actively discouraging this kind of discussion, is, in and of itself, a way of speaking about it, agreeing with it.

                  So, yeah, that’s hard. I got no solutions.

                  1. 8

                    Regarding the “fear of ethical/political discourse dominating this forum”—I understand, but we wouldn’t have to have all of these discussions if people would just stop being unethical :-) The more discussions we have now on this topic, the fewer we’ll need to have in the future. But if we don’t talk about it then, as you point out, things are only going to get worse.

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                      I think there’s a bit of a difference between discussing the ethics of a company and aggressively attacking a person.

                      The main top comment raises some points and actually encourages discussion, which admittedly doesn’t really happen in that thread. A large portion of the top upvoted comments are people chiming in and (essentially) saying “me too”. The top comment responding to a maintainer is incredibly aggressive towards the maintainer who stepped forward, only tangentially relates to the parent comment, is arguably a personal attack against that person and discourages discussion through the tone. Yet it’s more upvoted than the technical comments below.

                      In addition. it’s easy to forget that there are people on the other side of these usernames. It reminds me quite a bit of This is Phil Fish, a case study on how people can associate people with something larger, sometimes in damaging ways. It’s not quite the same, but I see similar parallels in how the community tends to treat employees of certain companies (yes, like Palantir… but Google also comes to mind).

                      I’d like to see more comments that encourage discussion, like the most upvoted top-level comment, and less comments saying “me too”, “I agree with this”, or borderline attacking the poster, like the most upvoted response to the maintainer.

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                        The more discussions we have now on this topic, the fewer we’ll need to have in the future. But if we don’t talk about it then, as you point out, things are only going to get worse.

                        That’s an interesting theory. I haven’t seen any evidence to support it on any of the other discussion forums I’ve used, but I suppose it might be true somewhere. I think friendlysock’s take is more accurate: by encouraging (tolerating? normalizing?) aggressive and reflexive positions on non-technical issues, we will get more of them here, not less. And eventually, the “bad money” will drive out the good, just like it does everywhere.

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                          Indeed - I think we have a plethora of examples of politics taking over, and few (none?) of political discussion settling debate so that everyone can move on.

                        2. 8

                          The more discussions we have no on this topic, the fewer we’ll need to have in the future.

                          I disagree with this in so many ways. We cannot possibly come to some end resolution where everyone agrees on a certain set of ethics, and even if that magically happened, we cannot all agree on the best way to act upon those ethics. Political conversation already permeates way too much of society. I don’t need to see it in a forum for technical discussion. If we’re going to try to think of ways for technology to be abused, we’re not going to produce anything. Further, I think we’re totally dismissing all the great things that same technology has done and can continue to do because it can be abused. If someone wants feedback on their submission, I don’t personally want to see politically-oriented discussion around it in this particular forum.

                          If the broader group of folks here wants this to become a political-friendly abyss, I’m fine with stepping away. But I don’t get that feeling right now.

                        3. 4

                          This is basically my opinion, too.

                          (I haven’t posted more in this an the other meta threads this week because I’ve been very busy starting a new job, but as I’m catching up today I’ve really appreciated all the thoughtful discussion exploring these questions that don’t have easy answers.)

                          1. 1

                            I didn’t see this at the time, thanks for taking a moment to add to the discussion.

                      2. 36

                        I think you have a point here that is both truth and lacking utility, but may be getting upvotes because hey, who wouldn’t upvote ethics in technology?

                        Here are some of the practical issues with supporting debates about “ethics”.

                        First, what do we mean by “ethics”?

                        Are we just wanting to talk about right and wrong? That’s often a matter of aesthetics. When I was born, it was pretty commonly held that homosexual acts were Evil, that psychoactive drug usage was Corrupt, and that democracy was unquestionably Good. None of those things are unerringly true anymore.

                        You might say “But friendlysock, those are matters of morals, as opposed to organized systems of beliefs that are analyzed in the context of practicing agents!”, and I would agree. That being the case, what is the point of having discussions that end up going basically:

                        • “You’re immoral!”
                        • “No, you’re immoral!”
                        • “You both act in clear hypocrisy of your professed morals!”

                        That discussion leaves everybody angry, takes up a lot of space, and doesn’t teach anybody anything. Worse, it breaks the operating regime of the site, because people will inevitably just blindly upvote the folks whose aesthetic matches theirs, and downvote or flag those that don’t–or worse, devolve into namecalling.

                        Okay, well, what about big-E Ethics?

                        So, we skip out on thinly-veiled callout threads and we’re just gonna limit ourselves to talking about big-E Ethics. Academic/philosopher stuff like meta-ethics and normative ethics and subtopics like utilitarianism and virtue ethics and state consequentialism and so forth.

                        And those are really fun topics. We have problems with those as the basis for subthreads though:

                        • Hardcore philosophy (despite our having a tag by that name, since that usage is looser) is off-topic.
                        • Most users (myself included!) are completely underskilled to talk big-E Ethics without a lot of clarifying back-and-forth and education in threads. Even assuming we have the skill to do all of that in a subthread (we don’t) and that we avoid falling back into moralizing (we won’t), such conversations suck all of the air out of the room for the technical discussion. That Palantir thread had us scrolling to the very bottom to get anything involving code or tech.
                        • We’re gonna end up having the same discussions over and over again, as the big-E Ethics questions are, rather famously, undecidable.

                        Okay, fine, what about professional ethics?

                        Sure! If people want to talk about how a given thing violates professional ethics, then I think that is healthy. Here is the ACM Code of Ethics. Use that as a starting point in a subthread.

                        Note though that we still don’t have professional organizations in the sense of, say, Professional Engineers. Our profession isn’t organized enough for that. So, talking about “professional” ethics is kinda hard.


                        Overall, I just don’t think that the “ethics” discussions are what people are actually after here. I think people want to callout and shit on other folks, and that they want to show to their friends solidarity in an aesthetic. This damages one of the only good venues for safe technical discussion on the ’net today.

                        And I won’t stand for that.

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                          I would, gently, point out that adjucating morals to aesthetics (the study of beauty, and of which the current post-Romantic admits a separate aesthetic for each individual) is not a stance that is particularly admirable.

                          Simply keeping “Lobsters about tech” is a big E ethics decision, with ramifications that ripple out.

                          If you want to demand that people treat other people well, that is a stable ethical choice that is supportable and relatively decidable.


                          But to be clear, working for Palantir - or other major enabler of violence & repression that generates widespread sideeye, is both a technical and an ethical choice; pointing this out and pushing back against consuming technical material from such an enabler seems perfectly reasonable.

                          We can debate whether working for Palantir is ethical - it probably also enables benefits to LEOs working complex cases and addressing real social harm. Many times on other social media sites, employees of ethically tangled companies will comment and discuss the complexity and reality of working in these environments. There is a very real debate, it’s not an open and shut thing where some group of activists come in and screams.

                          I reiterate: technology and ethics are intertwingled. While some contexts are more neutral than others, very few are pure neutral.

                          1. 12

                            @pnathan I didn’t want to wade into this muck, but you seem genuine. In my mind is not whether debates about ethics is good or bad, but rather what is lobste.rs for? There are PLENTY of places on this big internet to get on a soapbox and yell about whatever gets your goat. I want a quiet corner where I can just read about technical things. Code, decisions behind code, some PLT, some math and the occasional bit of humor. Perhaps the people here saying, well Kaushik, its time to go away somewhere else because that’s not what lobste.rs is for any more, and I will join the stragglers as we exit out of yet another refuge inundated by the loud and obnoxious soap box crowd.

                            1. 10

                              I’m 100% with you here. I see way too much soap boxing and bickering pretty much everywhere else on the internet. This was a safe haven for technical discussion without the political theater. If it’s going to become that, I’ll be happy to leave and try to form yet another community where we are trying to avoid this kind of stuff.

                              1. -2

                                leave and try to form yet another community where we are trying to avoid this kind of stuff

                                I’ll wager that ethical questions will inevitably follow you there, as they are inextricably part of the human experience, whether or not the primary topic is tech.

                                1. 4

                                  I’m not trying to avoid them entirely, I just want a forum for technical discussion. Not everything has to be polluted with other topics and agendas

                                  1. 1

                                    You might find the more focused discussion you seek in a special-interest forum. General-interest fora will attract general topics of conversation.

                                    1. 11

                                      Lobsters has been that forum for me until recently.

                                      1. 0

                                        That’s interesting. I hear many voices in this thread expressing the same. I never saw this website as something like that, I just saw it as a place where some relatively niche computing topics are aggregated.

                                        1. 8

                                          You’re also relatively new here compared to some of us, so that probably feeds into it. The site has grown quite a bit since I joined.

                                          1. 1

                                            I was reading this website for a long while before I got an invitation, but it is fair to say my account history is relatively new. When I started reading, most posts seemed to get an average of 1 or 2 comments. It’s hard for me to reconcile this—some folks are lamenting that recent discussions are not in keeping with the historical tone of the site, but the site has been historically silent on most topics.

                                            1. 5

                                              Try looking at it from a different perspective. Perhaps the absolute level of good quality comments hasn’t moved too much, but perhaps the absolute level of low quality comments has increased. If that’s true, it increases the signal-to-noise ratio and can lead to the “we used to have more good quality content here” observation.

                                              1. 2

                                                I was being very generous with the comment count. Even today, when I posted that comment, half of the front page articles had zero comments. Perhaps the signal level is just too low to begin with. Maybe there’s no consensus on what the signal is.

                              2. 4

                                you seem genuine

                                That’s one of the nicest things someone not my wife has said to me for some time. :) Thank you.

                                My basic thought is that I also want a corner where we can seriously talk about highly technical things, but we should be aware and also talk about the broader ramifications of our work, because we have the technical background to get the implications of our work and be correct about how it works, and to talk about the ethical implications of how a specific capability works/doesn’t work (whereas I have deep suspicions of an arbitrary op-ed columnist whinging about tech and begging for regulation).

                                To ask for a soapbox free zone seems completely ok - to ask for an ethics-free zone is an ethical choice that selects for specific social choices (as non-obvious as that may seem). To be specific: I’m not sure discussing the ethics of a new compiler gets us anywhere, but if its produced by Dr. Evilheart Murder Enterprises, maybe we need to discuss if using it supports D.E.M.E., and if we can redeem the technology from its production in the context of D,E.M.E. I don’t think that this is some lefty social justice agenda I’m asking for…. Maybe I’m wrong.

                              3. 12

                                I acknowledge the intertwingling, abstractly. But it seems you’re not addressing friendlysock’s actual concern. Is an announcement thread by a new user who happens to be the maintainer of an open source project an appropriate place to have the “very real debate” about whether working for that person’s employer is an ethical choice? When a commenter on that post engages in a blatant personal attack and is rewarded with upvotes aplenty, is the “very real debate” being furthered?

                                1. 10

                                  I would say so: it’s an opportunity for the software developers of Palatir to make a case that they are acting in an ethical fashion, that the world is complex and they are producing a net good. When I worked for a Famously Bad Reputation company, we were encouraged to defend the company. This would have definitely been a place where the maintainer could have defended themselves - if company policy allowed, of course.

                                  One of the interesting bits of social psych is conformity matters. If the general community shuns X group, to the point where its a permanent black mark on the record generating firings/no-hirings and it’s not something anyone is comfortable around at church, marrying family members, etc, then the X group diminishes into the fringe. Whether you are conservative or liberal, you wind up having a conformity and a social order. I’m not personally sure where to draw that line and place the mark, but Palantir is a popular target for placing that mark.

                                2. 8

                                  I would, gently, point out that adjucating morals to aesthetics (the study of beauty, and of which the current post-Romantic admits a separate aesthetic for each individual) is not a stance that is particularly admirable.

                                  Why not? There’s a huge variation in morality within our own culture, let alone looking across cultures. You can find people that believe that it’s immoral for two people with the same groin-endianness to get married, and others who think that it’s immoral for to accumulate a large amount of money. You have people who think that allowing dictators to abuse their people is immoral, and others who think that intervention is a bigger evil. You have people who think that it’s important to protect the freedom of users with copyleft licenses, and people who think that copyleft immorally restricts commercial use of software. You have fights between which supposedly divinely inspired book written thousands of years ago by uneducated sheep herders/traders/warriors/… is the primary authority on how to live your life. The list goes on, and all of them have people who believe one thing or the other.

                                  The shifting scene of prevailing ethical thought really does make it more like aesthetics than people are often comfortable admitting. Yes, it has longer term effects on people’s lives, and yes, it’s got some underlying principles, but it’s certainly not some sort of fixed beacon of truth.

                                  Why do you think that there is a universal set of ethics that people subscribe to? And if you don’t, do you really want this site to be either the battleground for deciding this, or a community of yes-men who boringly signal that yes, they are indeed a part of the in-group?

                                  There are lots of valid and interesting discussions to have on these topics, but to me, they detract from lobste.rs.

                                3. 2

                                  The book that revived virtue ethics as a viable project, MacIntyre’s After Virtue, points out how (and explains why) contemporary ethical debates have a peculiarly shrill and interminable character.

                                  1. 2

                                    This is a weird use of “aesthetics”. I don’t really know what you’re trying to say.

                                    1. 2

                                      I read “aesthetics” as, roughly, “something that a group of people has decided to call ‘basic human decency’, with the various external trappings this entails”.

                                  2. 21

                                    Yet I somehow suspect if I ask “What are the ethical implications of creating a webassembly backend for ocaml?” that I won’t receive quite as many upvotes.

                                    1. 6

                                      If the answer to the question “What is it built for?” is “for missile guidance systems”, we are in a different territory pretty quickly, though! Nothing technology lives without context.

                                      To turn this into something more tangible: when DARPA invested around 10 million for https://c2rust.com/, it definitely raised some eyebrows and sparked a couple of discussions.

                                      1. 9

                                        ARPA/military were behind the Internet, GPS, Tor, and (via defense contractors) majority of contributions to Linux kernel. Yet, most people discuss them without warnings or ethical debates in threads.

                                        It’s just specific things that are also talking points in liberal media.

                                        1. 2

                                          You are making it seem like these things have not been discussed, which is definitely not the case. Also, we’re not liberal media, we’re a community.

                                          1. 2

                                            Most of the statements read like they were pulled out of the liberal media. Pop-culture politics. People that actually care about popular politics here, say inclusion of under-represented groups, would have people from those groups, esp women, in the main teams (eg Rust compiler/libraries), be submitting work from such underrepresented people here to Lobsters instead of white/asian males, linking to write-ups by the same in the comments, and so on. There’s just one or two people doing that consistently off the top of my head.

                                            Inclusive politics here mainly equals writing comments and language policing to such people, not actually highlighting work by or bringing in underrepresented. Aka what they’d do if it really mattered. Same with employers, eco-friendliness, etc where someone could call out an OP in the majority of threads every day about the ethical ramifications of what they’re submitting. They only do on specific, popular, talking points, though.

                                            I make an exception for you since your community work probably does a lot of good in inclusion. A lot of good period. On Lobsters, though, most people voting for prioritizing politics for social justice certainly aren’t boosting minorities or even ethical suppliers. So, I call BS on it really mattering to them past ego value from social signaling, virtue and shaming.

                                        2. 9

                                          So if somebody builds a webassembly backend for missile guidance and puts it on github, is it ethical to use it for protein folding research? Or is it forever tainted?

                                          1. 1

                                            That’s a different question, and yes, it’s an interesting one. It’s also not like things on Github are just there. They still have a maintainer, a hosting organisation, and a leadership.

                                        3. 2

                                          Thats a cute non-sequitur, given that no one is inserting ethical implications into things like that. Seeing as this thread was sparked by the discussion around the ethical implications of software labor being used to further the work of a surveillance contractor, its not just a worthless message-board retort, its actively muddying the waters around issues that are inseparable from ethical questions.

                                        4. 18

                                          You’ve got to go about asking these questions in a way that actually enables the OP to respond. Instead, we got a massively passive-aggressive jab at the OP’s company:

                                          I guess it may be possible to work at a seedy company and still do good stuff […] Regardless, thanks for releasing this as free software.

                                          After which, the top commenter is hailed as a hero, and, to no one’s surprise, the OP didn’t respond.

                                          A reword that might have actually elicited a response might have started with “Thanks for releasing this as free software!” rather than the “yeah, your company sucks, but thanks anyway” angle.

                                          1. 9

                                            the creation of technology is an set of actions subject to ethical judgements

                                            Assuming that it is true - is it possible to have a small place (e.g. lobste.rs) which is for discussing technology without ethical implications and all the rest of the net for discussing whatever you want (also ethical aspects of technology)? Is this something you can imagine being possible or do you think that such place can’t exist? (this is a serious question)

                                            1. 32

                                              That’s certainly an important question.

                                              I think that it’s certainly possible to mention technology without explicitly mentioning ethics. I also think that engaging in that way is an ethical position. You can separate them at the surface level of discussion, but not in the substance.

                                              That said, I can certainly imagine a community in which technology is discussed but ethics is never explicitly mentioned. I would not want to be part of such a community; I would find it deeply unsettling. I do think that some people might like it, and there are a variety of reasons for that and I wouldn’t want to make assumptions about any particular person’s reasons.

                                              1. 7

                                                I think the problem with ethical discussions on a technical forum is that there’s not really a shared basis for those discussions. We might have a bunch of members from various religions and cultures who subscribe to widely different ideological frameworks and ethical principles. These different backgrounds are likely to be incommensurate, incompatible, and irresolvable.

                                                In that way it’s similar to discussions like “Are static types good or evil?” or the famous editor wars—so called “religious flame wars” which are known to ruin communities if left to fester.

                                                So indeed it is a kind of ethical decision about the norms of the community—whether ethical claims and disagreements ought to be encouraged in comment threads. There are pretty good reasons against.

                                                Let’s say I’m a committed socialist or communist or anarchist. There are many such people who are programmers. Now I have very good reason to enter threads about commercial activity and ask the involved people to justify their clearly immoral participation in the tyrannical, plutocratic, deeply unjust system of capitalism. I would of course encounter a bunch of dirty capitalist apologists trying to argue against my ethical position… and we could go on for a long time… almost certainly to the detriment of the community.

                                                1. 5

                                                  “I think the problem with ethical discussions on a technical forum is that there’s not really a shared basis for those discussions. We might have a bunch of members from various religions and cultures who subscribe to widely different ideological frameworks and ethical principles. These different backgrounds are likely to be incommensurate, incompatible, and irresolvable.”

                                                  You nailed it. That isn’t hypothetical: it happens in every political thread. The ending, minus rare exceptions, is everyone ends up believing what they already believed with some shunning their opponents in some way. Lobsters doesn’t work for political discussion that’s about actually changing people’s mind.

                                                  Of course, many of you are starting with the foundation that people wanting politics want a political discussion. They mostly don’t as evidenced by their comments in such threads. If you’re curious, I just described here the evolution of politics and behavioral patterns on this site from when I first came to where we’re at now. Given the same environment, political discussion is and will continue to be impossible because the dominant group intends for it to be. They want compliance and conversion, not discussion.

                                                  1. 3

                                                    I don’t necessarily know that changing people’s minds should be the goal, but I also don’t know that it’s impossible. I think you’re describing what happens when everyone reacts defensively. It’s indeed not possible to change someone’s mind if they aren’t willing to open up and have a real conversation, so I wish the world in general would be more open to interacting in ways that aren’t so resistant to real dialogue.

                                                    I’m an optimist, and I believe that when people try, they can engage with the goal of at least leaving each other with something to think about.

                                              2. 6

                                                I’ll suggest this (mainly tongue-in-cheek) but it might be a good solution: for every submission provide another link next to ‘reply’ called ‘ethics-reply.’ The links go to two separate discussion areas. That way, people can dip into the tech or ethics discussions as they like.

                                                1. 6

                                                  If such a place did exist, I think you’d have trouble finding a lot of people who would want to hang out there. I’ll just jump immediately to the most extreme possible example: if someone posted an article about the technology used by the Nazis to organize the Holocaust, but discussing the attendant ethics was strictly forbidden, would you be happy participating in that discussion? Would you want to spend a lot of time talking to other people who would be happy participating in that discussion?

                                                  1. 14

                                                    if someone posted an article about the technology used by the Nazis to organize the Holocaust, but discussing the attendant ethics was strictly forbidden, would you be happy participating in that discussion?

                                                    I am a jew who was raised by holocaust survivors. My answer is yes. In fact, I think it’s the only way that one could have a discussion about the technology used by the Nazis that wasn’t immediately dragged off topic.

                                                    And, honestly, an ethical discussion would either be abhorrent or boring, since a vibrant discussion implies a difference of opinion, and anyone who has significant differences in belief with me on the ethics of systematic mass murder is someone that I don’t expect to have a productive discussion with.

                                                    1. 12

                                                      Yes to both, to be honest. I did a bit of research for a point the other day, and something occurred to me.

                                                      Technology, especially computing, is all about solving problems at scale and efficiently. For the most part of the 19th and 20th centuries, the domains that actually had the scale to justify theoretical work and practical development tended overwhelmingly towards things like military applications (standing armies tending to be some of the largest organized groups around) and demographics/census/taxcollecting work.

                                                      For better or worse, note that IBM was really good at tabulating census data, something that the Nazis took advantage of. I personally would be happy talking about techniques for tabulating that data and managing it, in hopes that it could be applied to more positive uses. Similarly, I’d be happy to learn about rocketry from von Braun, even though most of what he learned he learned by dropping explosives on British civilians.

                                                      1. 5

                                                        Let’s take the specifics. Is Palantir stuff that remarkable to be worth the inevitable fallout in the comments and personal ethical compromises? Is it really that seminal and groundbreaking?

                                                        It is a dilemma when we talk about say an SS officer who also happened to run the US Moon programme. But Palantir is adtech’s meaner sibling, what is there that makes it worth picking the turd pile?

                                                        1. 9

                                                          The drop in the level of technical discussion is the issue, not the company being discussed. I’d prefer to let posts on unethical companies die in silence, rather than make this site a worse place to discuss technology.

                                                          1. 2

                                                            Another reason is highlighting the bad gives you less time to create the good. Most people that care can look up a company to see if there’s anything messed up. The bad or at least going with the flow are also the majority. If we’re talking companies, I’d rather people put more effort into highlighting ethical ones with useful tech or products. Basically, anything that can be a fit here on technical grounds with them also mentioning in a comment that the person, company, product, etc is good/beneficial for (reasons here). Maybe they mention some bad examples with it if trying to shame companies. Just optimize to promote more tech and examples of public benefit over just calling out bad companies who are the perpetual default.

                                                            Easy example: Prgmr.com over Digital Ocean, AWS, Google, or Azure if fits use case due to ‘straight-forward offerings, great service, some nice people, and freely hosting an excellent site for deep, technical discussion.” The submission might even be about something else entirely that’s merely hosted on the ethical product/service. Then, they add a quick note about it that barely distracts from the focus on technical content. Just all flows together for the reader.

                                                          2. 8

                                                            the inevitable fallout in the comments

                                                            The fallout is not “inevitable” - it is not a force majeure. Actual, specific, individuals CHOOSE to make it about the “ethics”. You’re asking people to appease these individuals.

                                                          3. 2

                                                            Would you be also ok to discuss methods of performing deadly medical experiments on people with Nazi concentration camps staff? Would you be ok to advise them how to improve the scale and speed? Would you still want to keep such discussions ethics-free? How about diacussing effectiveness of guns with the Zodiac Killer? Or advising Ted Kaczynski on bombs?

                                                            edit: Please note my intention here is not to seed outrage; I’m sincerely interested in your answer, as I find it hard to imagine setting really no ethics limits, so I’m curious to gauge where would you actually set them? Or would you really want no limits?

                                                            1. 6

                                                              I’ll pick on your first example, because I don’t see benefit in addressing the others (I read you as making the same category of point, with those added for emphasis).

                                                              Would you be also ok to discuss methods of performing deadly medical experiments on people with Nazi concentration camps staff? Would you be ok to advise them how to improve the scale and speed?

                                                              Let me turn that around on you:

                                                              Would you prefer they do them inefficiently, if you knew they were going to do them regardless? Would you prefer that the innocent lives lost in the nominal science of these experiments be done in vain because somebody screwed up their data collection? Would you prefer that, for the same data, they use extra prisoners because they suck at statistical power analysis?

                                                              I don’t support immoral behavior, such as mass murder and torture. I do recognize that whether such things are legally or ethically permissible (again, not morally) is something that transcends individual opinion, and that where those acts fall is a function of the zeitgeist of the times. Sloppy engineering, science, and math will always be sloppy, aesthetics of the time be damned.

                                                              We can’t get to identifying and fixing/discouraging/pillorying that sloppy behavior if we can’t engage with it. We can’t even get close enough to try and reclaim those lost souls if we can’t engage with them on (nominally objective) material civilly.

                                                              1. 6

                                                                Thanks for the interesting reply! So, I think in shortest words I could express what I think about this the following way: I would indeed prefer for them to do this ineffectively - I’d say that is the principle behind sabotage. As far as I know, sabotage works. And that’s indeed what I’d hope to be able to say I’m doing against actions I believe to be significantly unethical. (Though trying to keep my own integrity in means employed to that end.)

                                                                1. 9

                                                                  I’m not sure sabotage always works the way one hopes. When you destroy the results of human experimentation, the data is recreated by repeating the experiments on a new set of humans. That seems like a bad outcome for those involved.

                                                                  I think the problem is we too often define success as hurting the bad people, and yes sabotage hurts them, but we too should consider the collateral damage of our actions.

                                                                  1. 6

                                                                    It’s not about hurting bad people. It’s about making their evil work harder and less efficient at actually hurting good people, while also trying to convince evildoers to not do the evil in the first place, and preferably do good instead and thus become good people. If doing evil is easy for them, it won’t make them do less of it, but rather more of it. They will always invent new experiments to do on a new set of humans anyway. Appeasement policy did not work on the onset of WW2. A bully must be stopped, not let continue the bullying. A child doing bad things must be reprimanded and informed/educated about bad consequences of their deeds, not spoiled.

                                                                    1. 1

                                                                      Well put.

                                                            2. 5

                                                              if someone posted an article about the technology used by the Nazis to organize the Holocaust, but discussing the attendant ethics was strictly forbidden, would you be happy participating in that discussion?

                                                              Interesting example - you are asking if I would be interested in (discussing) e.g. technological aspects of IBM products around Second World War. Yes, this might be very interesting. I can also imagine other Nazi tech related topics that I wouldn’t find interesting (but see no reason for others not to be interested in) and in such cases I would use the hide button. Hopefully such place wouldn’t be all war tech from Nazi Germany or modern day USA ;)

                                                              1. 4

                                                                I would absolutely be hanging out there. That was kind of how this place has been for the most part.

                                                                As to your question about Nazis, yes I would want to discuss the technology, and I’d be happy to discuss it with people in those threads. If it were completely neutral politically, there is the potential to have great technical discussion.

                                                                1. 3

                                                                  I think you’d have trouble finding a lot of people who would want to hang out there

                                                                  I agree, but that’s not a bad thing, is it? This is not some sort of mass movement.

                                                                2. 0

                                                                  s it possible to have a small place (e.g. lobste.rs) which is for discussing technology without ethical implications and all the rest of the net for discussing whatever you want

                                                                  No. Even if it were, this would not be it.

                                                                  1. 1

                                                                    Even if it were, this would not be it.

                                                                    How do you know this?

                                                                    1. 0

                                                                      Because this site is full of intelligent people.

                                                                      1. 9

                                                                        Ah. You’re implying that “discussing technology without ethical implications” is exclusive to stupid people. Do I understand you correctly?

                                                                        1. 2

                                                                          I’m chewing on my keyboard right now!

                                                                          1. 1

                                                                            Discussing technology without coming up against ethical issues is impossible. I don’t think intelligent people would just skirt around them when they come up.

                                                                  2. 5

                                                                    Do you have an example of an action that would not be subject to ethical judgements? In trying to understand your claim, but I don’t sufficiently understand the definitions you’re using to determine whether you’ve made a falsifiable statement or not. Will you spend a little time describing the limits of your statement or what empirical observations support it?

                                                                    1. 6

                                                                      I would argue that there is a class of actions, e.g., selecting one knife over another in the kitchen for cooking, that has neither inherent ethic or no ethical consequence. Now, the ethic selected for consideration will affect whether you consider something to be of consequence. If, e.g., there is an ethical judgment on the Proper Utensils To Use, then that becomes of ethical consequence. Generally, societies consider actions such as killing adult humans to have inherent ethics.

                                                                      Suppose we choose gcc or clang - then you are supporting, ever so mildly, one development philosophy & license over another. Those licenses are widely considered to have ethical entailments. The FSF has very strong ethical stances about licensing.

                                                                      Now, with respect to empirical observations, I suggest weapons systems: they are an obvious technology which carries ethical implications. Other technology might be: AirBNB (affects housing), Uber (affects taxi operators), factory robots (replaces factory workers). Each of those affects jobs and thus the ability of many members of society to be fed and housed, a clear ethical question.

                                                                      I hope those presents samples that adequately points towards the answer you are looking for.

                                                                      1. 7

                                                                        I would argue that there is a class of actions, e.g., selecting one knife over another in the kitchen for cooking, that has neither inherent ethic or no ethical consequence.

                                                                        Interesting. Why do you believe that the methods that knife companies use to exploit their workers and the labor conditions of their employees would not be something to discuss? Do you believe that the environmental implications of importing knives from China rather than buying them locally has no ethical impact? What about the historical implications of Western expansion and influence in Japan, and the resulting western style Gyuto knives supplanting Sujihiki style kitchen knives? In fact, not only are there ethical implications, there are deep historical forces involved in your selection of kitchen knives.

                                                                        Of course there are ethical considerations in picking kitchen knives. But you might not want someone to bring them up every time you try to discuss paring potatoes, because they may be considered to be off topic by some.

                                                                        1. 4

                                                                          Ah, this is the problem with language: I was contemplating grabbing one knife out of my kitchen bin versus another. “Selection” is a polymorphic verb over multiple objects dispatching… and yes, actual purchasing of knives exercises an ethical choice regarding the supply chain and who gets my infinitesimally small dollar choice.

                                                                          It’s a bit tiring, as a friend said to me once, there is no ethical consumption under capitalism(even if you disagree with my Lefty friend there, you can get the spirit of the statement) - sometimes you do just need to get the Thing done. One has to care the appropriate amount, and respond in the proportional manner.

                                                                          1. 10

                                                                            there is no ethical consumption under capitalism

                                                                            I’d go one step further: There’s no such thing as an unquestionably ethical action. The economic model doesn’t matter – everything is an ethical trade off. With that realization, it becomes clear that ethical debates can be shoehorned in anywhere, which is why a space where discussions on ethics are deemed off topic can be valuable.

                                                                            (Edit) High quality discussion on ethics would be interesting, but quality is subjective, and discussions are prone to turn into flame wars and shaming, especially in today’s internet climate, so I’d rather have them declared off topic, at least in this little corner.

                                                                            1. 8

                                                                              If politics is encouraged in every applicable thread (it is now) and I wanted to join that practice (I don’t), I could be calling folks out in many (sometimes most) threads here each day on ethics around employers, code maintenance, energy use, disposable products causing environmental harm, using tech that’s non-inclusive cuz few understand it or CPU/RAM requirements price out the poor, and so on. It would be ridiculous even when true since it distracts so much from the kinds of technical submissions that brought many people to Lobsters in the first place. Especially those actually building interesting stuff vs just submitting.

                                                                              It’s why I was for either ban on politics or a tag so it would be in specific threads folks could filter. Both got shot down. Here we are.

                                                                    2. 6

                                                                      You’re absolutely correct.

                                                                      Hell, Portland State University’s CS program even has a requirement class “CS 305 Social, Ethical, and Legal Implications of Computing”[0]. I suspect this is not an anomoly..

                                                                      1. https://www.pdx.edu/computer-science/cs305
                                                                    1. 12

                                                                      Put me down for against a ‘lock the doors’ approach. The community is getting bigger, we have a more diverse set of viewpoints, and therefor discussions are going to get heated as the different cultures rub up on one another. I consider this a ‘good thing’ - iron sharpens iron, after all.

                                                                      1. 9

                                                                        iron sharpens iron, after all.

                                                                        The result of this sharpening process is Reddit, HN, Twitter. Sure, those sites survive, and can be considered successful, but isn’t lobste.rs meant to be better? I think only a brake on community size can ensure that it is.

                                                                        1. 3

                                                                          None of those sites have adapted well as systems, either: HN has barely changed in what, 10 years? Reddit isn’t much better. I think we could look at software improvements to Lobste.rs (I have some ideas, I’d like to hear others’) in order to better manage the situation, as well.

                                                                          1. 5

                                                                            Software changes are hardly the issue. Reddit has adapted a lot and got significantly worse than it was before.

                                                                      1. 4

                                                                        Let’s look at another forum community that has also been trying to deal with this kind of thing.

                                                                        Topics, especially longer ones have a tendency to veer off-topic. When this happens, [moderators] can select posts to move to a new topic or an existing topic on the subject.

                                                                        I don’t think Lobsters codebase can do this, and I think it would be helpful. It gives the moderators a way to respond to off-topic discussions without actually stopping them.

                                                                        If discussion in a topic is no longer productive or discussion is no longer focused on the topic, but instead on “attacking” other users instead of ideas, moderators should step in.

                                                                        Make a staff post. Many times, a simple reminder is enough to solve the issue. You can create a post reminding users to be polite, warn them they’re talking in circles, etc, and then use the post admin wrench to mark the post a staff post. This indicates to users that the post is the official position of the site.

                                                                        Set a topic timer. If the staff post doesn’t help, or discussion seems so heated that a reminder won’t help, you can “pause” the topic. Use the topic admin wrench to set a topic timer for auto-open. This will immediately close the topic, preventing new posts, and display a notice when the topic will reopen.

                                                                        In other words, the community cannot be self-governing. Lobsters is already past Dunbar’s number.

                                                                        1. 1

                                                                          No. The community cannot be self-governing. Lobsters is already past Dunbar’s number.

                                                                          If “<=N members” is indeed the criterion for having a reasonable community, then that is the solution right there: “de-growth to <=N” :)

                                                                          1. 4

                                                                            I didn’t say anything about being reasonable. I said it couldn’t be self-governing. It needs active moderation.

                                                                            The about page for Lobsters described it this way:

                                                                            Invitations are used as a mechanism for spam-control, to slow registrations to a pace we can acculturate. and to encourage users to be nice, not to make the Lobsters userbase an elite club.

                                                                            Which means that Lobsters does not intend to be hard-limited at Dunbar’s number, since having a hard maximum userbase would make it an elite club. Lobsters also has votes, flags, moderation, officialness-markers, and other tools that are designed to keep the site from descending into chaos even when the human factors flake out, which only makes sense if you want to be able to go beyond the point where humans can naturally regulate ourselves.

                                                                            If Lobsters doesn’t want to be an elite club, and the admins have specifically said they don’t, it must have explicit rules, and they must be enforced.

                                                                            1. 1

                                                                              Sure, I drew that particular implication. I do not think that fixing cultural issues via law enforcement is possible, so for me “reasonable” = “functional” = “cohesive enough to not have to establish a virtual police state”.

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                                                                          It’s a lost cause on politics, friendlysock. The vast majority of votes in most threads favor political activism in both submissions and comments. They also favor a specific kind of leftist politics over others with consistent responses, positive and negative, over about a year. The recent thread prioritized political action, up to pushing a person to quit their job, over the technical content by around 6 to 1 votes when I last looked. Situation is similar for others. Also, low-content, political comments get more support at times than high-content, technical comments.

                                                                          Conclusion: the Lobsters community isn’t what it was when you wrote What Lobsters Is and Isnt. It is now a community that prioritizes leftist, political activism over all other activities with a small, chunk of dissenters. It’s also a link aggregator whose content is a mix of that, stuff in your Is list, and stuff in your Isnt list. It’s dishonest to say anything else that doesnt reflect what majority of voting users promote and commenters do here.

                                                                          Ill be updating my description of the site in near future to match its current mix of deep tech, HN/Reddit-like news, and leftist activism. Im also going to stop all poitical comments counter to that leftist style of politics since the dominant group has consensus that they’re not welcome here and therefore too low-impact to matter. I will note they weren’t censored: a strength of Lobsters’ moderation. Ill only comment like that further where it impacted or is aimed at me. I might also modify my submissions to reflect this community’s priorities putting the others somewhere else (eg a blog). I’ll note the changes in my profile so people in Lobsters’ minority, folks like us, can still follow that stuff if they choose.

                                                                          I’ll probably start the process next year since November and December are so busy for me. I have some other ideas that might improve things further for both political opponents and minority folks (esp anti-politics for Lobsters). I think 2019 will be an interesting time for Lobsters.

                                                                          1. 9

                                                                            Im also going to stop all poitical comments counter to that leftist style of politics since the dominant group has consensus that they’re not welcome here and therefore too low-impact to matter.

                                                                            I don’t think this is true, especially since you are the one of the few who call out the inconsistencies when you see them. The marginal value is especially important when there are few, going down from 5-4-3-2-1 against the endless horde of leftist posturing and virtue signaling makes every step the more damaging to reasons and honesty.

                                                                            The reasoning that the dominant group has consensus isn’t even an argument in my mind. To follow this line of reasoning, one should only voice one’s opinions, or the truths if they agree with the consensus view. That is clearly a bad place to be in.

                                                                            At the end of the day ethical questions will always be more relevant and more voted on. Because it impacts everyone, while technical issue can be both beyond your grasp (i.e. you don’t know enough about this particular tech to talk about it) or simply boring. Add to that the highly emotionally charged nature of ethics and politics, we shouldn’t really count number of votes and comments as to be metric by which to value opinions and discussions. I’m not going to stop speaking English because there are 15 billions or however many Chinese speakers (in some timeline).

                                                                            1. 6

                                                                              Thanks for the encouragement. Especially from someone who doesn’t back down on their own politics in this space. I agree with most of your comment. I’m even continuing to do the dissent in places where it counts (aka mostly real life). I’m just cutting it off for Lobsters. Maybe most of these online forums with low numbers of people with leftist activists in control. Which they definitely are now.

                                                                              You see, your post presumes two things: this is a place for actual, political discussion; the old Lobsters is worth fighting for. I disagree with both with the 2nd following from the 1st.

                                                                              The site was a low-noise, technical site with occasional, political scuffles. The first meta where I put strong arguments for no politics or free speech had a huge number of people supporting my position. They were both putting time in with arguments (most important) and upvoting (peripherally important). There were many people on opposing side, too. Their side wanted specific kind of politics in every thread, mostly downvotes/insults anyone that disagrees (some were nice), and occasionally some would want a CoC that would let them ban dissent(ers).

                                                                              During and after the mass invite, the people in the leftist activist crowd invited a lot more people. As I fought their false claims and demands for no dissent, more people on no politics and free speech sides droppped off in both comments and votes. Seeing patterns from other sites, they decided that Lobsters would be politically dominated and not worth further investment. Some for just politics, others for whole site. Eventually, we had a moderator and admin with similar beliefs as the crowd with most mindshare. Add to that some long-running members were telling them they’d quit Lobsters if (a) politics wasn’t allowed everywhere or (b) it became “like HN, Reddit, etc.” by allowing non-left folks to post their own links those leftist abhorred. What hypocrisy if goal is actual, political discussion and evolution. That overall combination sealed the fate of the technically-focused, less-political Lobsters.

                                                                              Now, that site is gone. Look at the current vote counts and moderator statements on various positions here. Still consistent with my claim it’s changed. Now, if that is the environment, next question is, “Is political action worth effort?” Prior conversations indicate these people are not here for discussion. Their type of politics believes they’re already correct about the fundamentals (a religion), that people are getting harmed (mostly imagined) by every dissenting statement/action, and their moral imperative is to convert everyone to their beliefs to reduce that harm and promote the good they believe in. They’re evangelists, not philosophers or conversationalists, at least when it’s about politics. That kind of view is also why they act like a mob on anyone disagreeing even with civil posts, often with accusations of harm or discrimination. You’ll also see them throw low-effort comments while people like me in outgroup wanting actual discussion might put 30 min into making ours thoughtful and civil. That was really draining. Which was the goal, deterrence of dissent, which worked since the numbers shifted with high participation from people with their beliefs but almost zero participation from those of us with alternative beliefs.

                                                                              Conclusion: the political aspects of Lobsters are now an echo chamber for a specific kind of politics with everything else to be heavily penalized and shunned. Most of their action is virtue signaling and/or outgroup shaming since it achieves nothing in the real world toward their goals. The actual, political discussion they intend is among people in their group evangelizing their beliefs, hashing out differences they tolerate within parameters of shared beliefs, developing plans for increasing conformance in more spaces (online/offline), and so on. Although for some it’s intentional, others seem to be just going with the flow since that’s what they believe. After increasing participation by non-leftist-activist Lobsters, turning the site around would require changing the beliefs of one moderator, maybe the admin, and maybe 40-80 voters based on last action I saw. Then, Lobsters would immediately loose key members who will quit on political grounds. The people you’re convincing value those members, too. So, that’s a monumental effort to either get politics off Lobsters or shove it into dedicated, political threads. It’s possible the latter happens as a compromise without monumental effort but I’m not holding my breath: admin probably won’t do something that makes the people who will quit follow through with their promise.

                                                                              Conclusion 2: If I’m not extremely busy, you’ll see it by 2019. Meanwhile, I’ll be done discussing politics after a transition since Lobsters isn’t a site for political discussion: it’s a leftist-activist site dedicated to evangelizing their politics and correcting non-conformance while also enjoying reading and commenting on some technical stuff. There’s a dissenting group doing other things. They’re not in control or increasing in number, though. Do what you want on your end. Just know you’re doing it in a church expecting religious renouncement rather than a political conversation expecting evolution of thought.

                                                                              1. 2

                                                                                yeah, you convinced me.

                                                                            2. 8

                                                                              There are a string of sites that I’ve abandoned (Tumblr, Twitter, HN, Reddit) for similar reasons that you outline. Up until relatively recently, Lobste.rs. seemed to be a sane corner of the internet where most discussions could take place without devolving into moral posturing.

                                                                              I’m unsure if ceding the territory to the hyper-political is the right answer. From a mental health perspective it certainly is, but from of societal perspective it appears to just lead to more isolation and polarization.

                                                                              1. 7

                                                                                The admin and one moderator support what I describe along with most of voters in those threads and comments. It’s already done. The environment is fixed to that situation at the moment. We have to integrate with or reject that situation. There’s at least two choices:

                                                                                1. Ignore the politics to focus on the technical content.

                                                                                2. Contribute to the politics to further the goals of the new, community politics while improving one’s standing in it. This will reinforce the current situation with that type of politics and focus going up from here.

                                                                                I’m doing 1 for now after this thread unless pulled into a discussion. I’ll be doing some of 2 due to overlap between their and my politics in terms of benefiting people. Thinking about various possibilities. Retreating from political discussion in a place where it goes nowhere outside specific groups’ beliefs and practices, the community’s majority position, makes the most sense just purely on an effort/impact basis. There were some great moments that came out of all that work, though. I won’t forget them.

                                                                              2. 10

                                                                                For what it’s worth, I really appreciate your comments about security and building things that are reliable. I’ve learned a lot from your comments, and I hope to learn more in the future.

                                                                                It’s pretty taxing for me personally to read your posts that go into politics. In my reading, your tone changes pretty dramatically from the endless-well of experience and good-natured sharing of knowledge to a more condescending, defensive one.

                                                                                Things are more politically interesting than they were when I found this site a few years ago. Things are less stable, and we are in an increased state of conflict. Conflicts on this scale will permeate more and more of our lives until they are resolved. To the extent that this is a space of low-friction discourse, the conflict will act itself out when two sides decide to play the game. People are saying “oh, isn’t it such a bad thing that the palantir OP couldn’t respond to the top comment?” but It’s not. They chose not to play that particular game. I think you’re right to identify that your conflicts are those of your choosing.

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                                                                                  “For what it’s worth, I really appreciate your comments about security and building things that are reliable. I’ve learned a lot from your comments, and I hope to learn more in the future.”

                                                                                  Thank you! I’ll stay at it!

                                                                                  “It’s pretty taxing for me personally to read your posts that go into politics” … “to a more condescending, defensive one.”

                                                                                  I appreciate your honesty. Given you bring it up, I figure I’ll explain one last time unless asked again. I can at least tell you where that defensiveness comes from that ties into Lobsters in at least two, major ways:

                                                                                  1. Black students and administrators at a black school with similar beliefs and practices, esp disagreement = offense or personal attack, used them to justify silencing, shouting at, slandering, and physically beating white students on a daily basis. I endured this for years like other whites did at every black school I asked about. I got PTSD from the effects of beatings, esp having to see them coming from a mere glance. They simultaneously talked up our privilege, their oppression, and so on despite them having all the advantages and power which they used to hurt us. That led almost all white students (except a few like me) to believe similar stories in media were lies perpetuated by an aggressive race of people. The few, really-good students and teachers plus me wanting to get along kept me non-racist (biased at worst). Liberals of Lobsters’ type and blacks told me from then onto today that structural oppression against whites doesn’t exist, our claims don’t matter, and/or just perpetuate “real” racism against minorities. So, the psychological damage, PTSD cases, discrimination, and resulting racism among white victims will continue until such systematic racism against whites is exposed, squashed where possible, and sympathy extended to victims rather than denial of their existence. People said same stuff here, too, so I fought it for a while. One that switched positions floored me: it’s so, so, so rare.

                                                                                  2. Prior threads where I expressed civil disagreement with examples got me hit with personal attacks and people that misrepresented my comments on purpose. There were usually many of them at once with some having high upvotes. When a non-leftist or non-PC-leftist did that, they’d usually get slammed by the same people talking about comment quality and inclusiveness should stay up before the comment was collapsed. That difference happened a lot. Knowing there’s people watching with intent to do that either creates a chilling effect or increases agitation/resolve in most people who sense it. Even greater in me since I grew up in a murder capital with micro and overt aggression making me optimized to react fast and hard to it. I’m still so toned down compared to how folks in Mid-South, esp minority members, usually respond to personal insults tied into politics, esp racial. For the rest here, it was largely a chilling effect: many people contacted me over time after Lobsters got super-political saying they didn’t feel safe voting or commenting on political stuff since they thought they’d loose their account. A few thanked me for representing dissenting opinions. Some left.

                                                                                  Put those two together and I was still getting personal attacks, I got a little defensive when talking about the same things with the same people. It’s only natural even though I hate it had to be painful experience for onlookers who weren’t involved in such behavior. I should mention that some people here put in a lot of effort to be civil. A few even would message me links helping me understand their side of things. @pushcx and @Irene particularly handled lots of tough situations well: their responses prioritized civil discussion, tolerance of dissent, and remedial action wherever possible. The political discussions (and battles) taught me which Lobsters had good to outstanding character in difficult situations. I’ll remember them in the future if opportunities knock.

                                                                                  This is all historical, though, since I’ll be done with my form of politics on this site soon or by the end of the year. Could be a few more discussions left since there’s ongoing meta and transitional effects I might not see coming. I’m minimizing it, though, while still posting those security and reliability papers/tips yall love. We have a great, little, security/verification community here with folks good at theory, some at practice, and some that do both. Gotta keep building that up on top of other communities. There’s possibilities to bring in more experienced and CompSci people in things like UI/UX that are highly important, but get less attention.

                                                                                2. 10

                                                                                  “Leftist political activism” is a weird way to characterize caring about our social milieu.

                                                                                  That said, I’ve seen a lack of engagement by those with contrary political views, other than to bemoan talking about any issue that isn’t narrowly technical.

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                                                                                    The highest-voted, leftist views are about what constitutes racism/sexism, transgender identity, political correctness with language policing, focus on inclusive behavior prioritizing non-whites/males, and telling people to quit Palantir (but not Google or Apple/Foxconn). These kind of views are most dominant in terms of upvotes and replies. When described, most people say leftist, social justice, and so on.

                                                                                    I’m open to other phrases so long as the label will indicate most or all of the above to a centrist, conservative, or other person that doesn’t closely follow such politics.

                                                                                    1. 3

                                                                                      I would disagree with you on one premise. There are hardly any “leftist views” here. I would classify most of them as “right of center but not too right”. The discourse has gone so far right in the last 30 years, that fairly conservative views of old are now “leftist”. I would argue that most conservatives wouldn’t be able to identify leftist views. In fact, I find most conservatives are pretty comfortable with some of them. The ideals of freedom were often historically leftist ideas, for example. It’s pretty surprising to most Republicans that Lincoln corresponded and read Marx, and that communists joined the Republican party early on instead of creating their own. History is easily forgotten, especially in the tech world.

                                                                                      1. 6

                                                                                        This is a semantic argument. I’m sure if you go back long enough white means black or w/e.

                                                                                        Right now leftists are interested in what was described.

                                                                                        1. 0

                                                                                          It is a semantic argument, with substantial differences in perspective on how its decided. I happen to agree with mempko, there are hardly any leftist views here, either in an economic or cultural sense. Being of the left isn’t a free for all, it has very real and substantial poles around which it organizes its ideology, and I was actually taken aback to see mempko’s comment given that I agreed and usually (almost always actually) I feel very much alone in settings like this. Just because someone supports, say, civil rights does not necessarily make them of the left. Same I might add for gender issues.

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                                                                                          Of Democrats and Liberals in U.S., a huge chunk of them push these views. Some don’t. No Republicans or Conservatives do that I’m aware of at least for these contexts. It would be pretty fringe. The Democrats and Liberals are Leftists or Left-leaning. Therefore, they’re Leftist Views at least to Americans.

                                                                                          The situation might be different to people outside of America. The Europeans on both Hacker News and Lobsters sometimes have interesting comments about what’s called socialist here vs over there.

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                                                                                            It’s true that Europeans have different ideas of what leftist views are. But this is because Europeans still have a large base of leftists in the public sphere. But what I’m saying is that even by American standards, someone like Bernie Sanders would have been a moderate republican 50 years ago. That shift to the right has been so dramatic that people believe Democrats are “leftist”, when historically in America they are clearly right of center. 50 years of propaganda does a lot to change public views.

                                                                                            So yes, you are right to say Democrats are “leftist” because that’s what convention says they are. But this almost blinds people to actual leftist views.

                                                                                            I also think the newest generation will once again change what that means.

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                                                                                              That all makes sense. I have to use the current terms since that’s what everone is using. It enables wider understanding.

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                                                                                                My issue with a lot of conservatives is that they use the term “leftist” as a derogatory term. Which is sad because a lot of leftist ideas should appeal to conservatives. It’s almost as though words have the opposite meaning in the US as they do in the rest of the world. For example, the word Libertarian used to be synonymous with anarchist, and anarchists are strictly hardcore leftists. I feel the words “conservative” is similar now because to me a lot of modern conservative views are pretty extreme. I think conservatives have a lot in common with real leftists if they look closely. Many conservative talking points are basically Marxist! For example, the idea that you should be paid what you are worth. The ideas of freedom and individuality. Many leftists are against some Liberal ideas like cultural relativism. I’m sorry but genital mutilation is wrong.

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                                                                                                  I agree again that lots of groups are more similar than different in some ways and their classification changed over time.

                                                                                                  Ill add to you first line that liberals bash conservatives incessantly in every forum I see, including here. It’s impossible for most of them to have a real, political discussion if things are that antagonistic. There’s a few of us doing actual discussion here now. Most threw votes for or against on reflex to push their views with the least participation and communication possible. People, esp on HN and Lobsters, have constantly reminded me it’s part of human nature (tribal instincts).

                                                                                                  So, folks have to confront that part, say “it’s about us, too, not just them,” constantly read other side’s views/evidence, and constantly re-assess. Most important, they have to learn to fight the instinct to attack the other side in discussions. Second that happens, it becomes an emotional fight where rational arguments have no effect. If folks keep at that, they’re just bullying and dominating, not doing discussion.

                                                                                                  I appreciate you mostly staying on actual, civil discussion in our conversations despite our beliefs being far apart. I always enjoyed them even if they got stressful. I still appreciate at least one person sets standard for science on improving people’s potential/happiness even though my view is more pessimistic. ;)

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                                                                                        “Caring about our social milieu” is a weird way to characterize leftist political activism.

                                                                                        I’ve seen a lack of engagement by those with contrary political views, other than to bemoan talking about any issue that isn’t narrowly technical.

                                                                                        That’s pretty consistent, wouldn’t you say? Though “bemoan” is a rather impolite way of putting it.

                                                                                        (edit: on second reading, the post I’m replying to is actually some sort of low-key insult. disgusting.)

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                                                                                          That said, I’ve seen a lack of engagement by those with contrary political views, other than to bemoan talking about any issue that isn’t narrowly technical.

                                                                                          I don’t hold particularly contrary political views, but I have to wonder if you’d actually welcome this kind of discussion from people with opposing political views, varying views on ethics, and similar?

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                                                                                            Why not?

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                                                                                          Your comments in that thread were not ‘counter to leftwing activism’. They were counter to common decency. You accused someone of being a hypocrite with no basis whatsoever.

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                                                                                          Disclaimer: I’m one of the newest users here, so if my ideas about what’s on-topic don’t line up with the community’s, I understand that that indicates that I should move on, not that the community should change to suit me :-)

                                                                                          How do you think the person who submitted this neat project feels when only a tiny fraction of the replies to their submission even talk about it?

                                                                                          That person probably feels pretty bummed out about the lack of technical discussion. I understand and empathize with their disappointment. But I’m surprised that a discussion of the broader context around the submission would be considered off-topic. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

                                                                                          We’ve seen throughout history that people who are willing to act unethically have an advantage over those who aren’t. Pragmatically, the main things preventing companies from behaving unethically or immorally are the threat of legal repercussions, the consciences of their employees, and the criticism of the general public. You could summarize the latter two as “shame,” and if our venue prohibits that mechanism then we’re effectively siding with the companies that are willing to get ahead at any cost.

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                                                                                            Allowing moral policing in comments creates an environment where technical posts and discussion (the lifeblood and differentiator of lobste.rs) will suffer. Two ways this happens include:

                                                                                            1. It discourages people from submitting interesting technical projects due to potential backlash. I wouldn’t want to miss out on good technical discussion.

                                                                                            2. It discourages comments and discussion about the project. If the top comment has 95 upvotes and takes up 10 pages of scrolling, it will make it harder to justify commenting on the project technically. If I post, will anyone see it anyway?

                                                                                            A deterioration in the quality of technical discussion will lead to users who care only about the technical content leaving, and thus further deterioration of content.

                                                                                            Whatever your personal views are, I encourage everyone to take a moral nihilistic stance when it comes to making comments here. There are plenty of places to discuss morals, ethics, and politics on the internet, and turning Lobsters into yet another one of these rather than the best place to find and discuss technical articles on the internet would be a loss.

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                                                                                              Moreover, articles on HN/reddit are usually a super set of what’s here. If an article appears here that you would like to make a political comment on, finding the same article on one of the other sites and joining in the discussion should not be too onerous.

                                                                                              Of course, that robs those with a strong desire to proselytize of a potential audience so is unlikely to be welcomed.

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                                                                                              But I’m surprised that a discussion of the broader context around the submission would be considered off-topic. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

                                                                                              The “broader context” discussion starts with tangents and gets only worse from there. That’s why the SNR on HN is so low, and that’s why I barely read HN.

                                                                                              When I joined lobsters, the unwritten rule was that the focus is (almost) exclusively on technical content. Maybe I imagined that rule? The way it was enforced was with relevant technical tags (and a bit of activism, not unlike what sock is doing here), but once you get broad enough tags (culture, practices, …) it’s bound to get out of hand. Worse yet, comments aren’t tagged like submissions so there was never a mechanism for enforcing on-topic technical discourse. So that’s getting out of hand too, as more people engage tangents. And now I’m seeing more and more people who think that anything they upvote or anything they find interesting belongs on the site. IDK what to think.

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                                                                                                When I joined lobsters, the unwritten rule was that the focus is (almost) exclusively on technical content.

                                                                                                Even if that’s no longer the case now - I’d certainly like that to become a rule (written or not).

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                                                                                                  I’d prefer not. Pure technical content is sterile and boring. Read a textbook or subscribe to a journal if that’s your bag.

                                                                                                  Technology is only interesting and valuable to humanity where it impacts and has interactions with the humanities.

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                                                                                                Although I understand the fact, that its difficult to judge something without context, I also wish I knew where to draw the line of how broad or narrow the context can be discussed. I don’t think that it is even really possible when it comes to convictions and beliefs that are mostly subjective.

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                                                                                                The issue here as I see it is multifaceted.

                                                                                                1. The submission in question is clearly on-topic.
                                                                                                2. There are ethical considerations surrounding the company which is getting publicity and attention through the submission.

                                                                                                The two points come hand in hand and we should find a way to tackle them together. I personally feel that ethical discussions should always be classed as on-topic, and then we can implement further rules to control the way that these discussions take place and the nature of them.

                                                                                                Discourse, especially on controversial topics, is how we will progress and better ourselves as a community.

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                                                                                                  There’s another facet:

                                                                                                  1. Due to its reputation as a place for serious, thoughtful, technical discussion, lobste.rs is a valuable billboard for ideas (and that includes both the submission space as well as the comment space).

                                                                                                  If you encourage non-technical discussion in here, you are turning this site into a CTF - it (currently) has too much value for people to abstain from fighting over it.

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                                                                                                  I think that a solution would be to

                                                                                                  1. reduce active member count (in reverse chronological order) until a consensus can be found, and then
                                                                                                  2. gradually increase while maintaining the obtained consensus as an invariant

                                                                                                  That is, temporarily disable accounts with age <= 2y and, if the problem persists, continue with <= 3y, etc., and then re-enable in reverse order.

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                                                                                                    I think disabling accounts based on a metric possibly correlated with aberrant behavior (account age) as opposed to the actual behavior (violating the norms of the site) would have negative effects on community health.

                                                                                                    If someone’s account is suspended, are they likely to continue contributing to the site after their account is reactivated?

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                                                                                                      Disabling accounts based on a metric possibly correlated with aberrant behavior

                                                                                                      Oh, “finding the bad apples” is not the idea at all! The idea is to revert to a known-to-be-functional state, then work out a consensus on culture in that (smaller, more effective) group, and finally grow back in a controlled manner.

                                                                                                      If someone’s account is suspended, are they likely to continue contributing to the site after their account is reactivated?

                                                                                                      I can only speak for myself (I’d fall in the first batch, <1y), but yeah, I would.

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                                                                                                      I don’t think this is a good idea, but to be honest I prefer lobste.rs form time when I didn’t have an account. In fact I would happily delete it if I could get back that calmer and more focused site. One of the reasons I asked for invitation was to be able to use ‘hide’ and start voting to stop HNification.

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                                                                                                      Oof, long! But sounds interesting.

                                                                                                      Before going in, here’s what I have found to be a usable approach for myself: there’s only one class of activities - “life”, and the same criteria apply independently of a given activity being “worky” or “leisurely” (or both). They all are means toward the same goals, and thus can be judged based on their impact toward these goals.

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                                                                                                        Even weirder is having infinite scroll on a website which contains a footer. It happens a lot more often than one might think.

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                                                                                                          Right, that’s a very bizarre experience! Usually ending with view-source: or browser devtools :D

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                                                                                                          Follow-up: I got tired of hacking together imagemagick commands with shell, and just rewrote the whole thing (except gifsicle/optimize) in Go: https://github.com/sgreben/yeetgif

                                                                                                          Lessons learned:

                                                                                                          • shell was great for prototyping and became hell for further development
                                                                                                          • re-writing in Go, with the shell prototype as a “very detailed spec” was surprisingly pleasant
                                                                                                          • libraries that are written in a way that allows you to quickly fork/cut down/modify them are a blessing
                                                                                                          • making funny gifs is an incredibly attractive timesink
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                                                                                                            This might be more trivial than what you’re looking for, but one very general thing is reachability and its definition as the transitive closure of the “step” relation (reach(v) = U{reach(w) u {w} | edge(v,w)}).

                                                                                                            Many things can be viewed as “states and steps” and “can I reach w from v?” is then often something you want to know.

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                                                                                                              Like in these slides, the reachability problem shows up in some formal methods work on model-checking transition systems. The abstract and finite state machines have been applied to tons of problem areas. That means reachability itself might benefit tons of areas through them. Just me hypothesizing there based on seeing it turn up in quite a few papers.

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                                                                                                                Slightly more meta than that, reachability as the transitive closure of steps is also a useful way to encode things for model checkers (and model finders, in my case). For example, when using using model-finding for procedural level generation, it’s straightforward to constrain structural properties of levels. But if you want to also constrain dynamic properties of levels, like “the player must be able, consistent with the game mechanics, to reach X in the generated level”, you need to encode a little declarative model of reachability. That’s often easiest to do by defining what can happen in one step first, then adding a transitive-closure rule for overall reachability. E.g. the player model in Figure 8.11 of this textbook chapter does that with a little 3-state FSM player.

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                                                                                                              For me personally, usage of Scrum on a project is a red flag, and I will try to avoid the project if I can. The existence of worse modes of work (which I also avoid) only constitutes an argument in favor of Scrum if they actually are the only alternatives.

                                                                                                              To elaborate - from my perspective, Scrum feels

                                                                                                              • disrespectful toward developers
                                                                                                              • like a waste of time in terms of personal development and
                                                                                                              • a step away from impact & responsibility
                                                                                                              • overhead that makes me slower and less motivated

                                                                                                              Perhaps that’s all a result of “doing it wrong”. For communication purposes, however, Scrum-the-formally-defined-process is much less relevant than Scrum-as-it-is-implemented. For me, the term is already tainted enough that I would actively avoid associating myself with it in any way.

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                                                                                                                FWIW: my experience of Scrum-as-implemented has been very positive.

                                                                                                                I don’t really get the “disrespect” narrative; for me the most fulfilling thing, the thing that makes me feel impact and responsibility, and the best for my “personal development” (to the extent that I understand the concept at all) is to have contact with a customer that I’m solving problems for.

                                                                                                                Scrum has struck the best balance I’ve found between overhead and effectiveness; the overhead is not zero but it’s less than any other formal process I’ve seen applied unless we count Kanban (which is essentially Scrum without the iterations, and I found lead to endless indefinitely-scoped “do the thing” tasks where it was easy to get lost doing nothing useful). “No process” is of course the lowest overhead but I find it unpleasant to work under: much more of a blame game when things go wrong and something isn’t done, and too easy to end up building something useless.

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                                                                                                                I think the elephant in the room that this article doesn’t directly address is “Do the programs you write have many types of data which should never be substituted?”. If all the types in your program really are strings, and you’re just moving text around you would likely be hindered by types. If by contrast you have many different kinds of integer that should not be mixed like weight and account balance you might really benefit from stricter types.

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                                                                                                                  If all the types in your program really are strings, and you’re just moving text around you would likely be hindered by types.

                                                                                                                  I’ve yet to work on a useful program where the data’s representation as a “string” was the highest level of meaning that could be assigned to that data. As soon as you get past writing a toy you will start to have to differentiate between what different string values mean, and then we are talking about types–and arguably at precisely the point where we can start to leverage the power of a (good) type system. Speaking as someone who writes Clojure as his day job, it’s clear to me that this is why core.typed exists, and why there is so much activity around clojure.spec (and schema before it)–it’s obvious that “everything is a string” (or in the case of Clojure, “everything is a map”) isn’t good enough to represent the kind of data we work with as professional programmers (and the jury is out on whether or not clojure.spec is up to the task).

                                                                                                                  So while that’s not to suggest that we always need a sophisticated type system–or that we aren’t sometimes hindered when forced to use a type system like Java’s–I think it’s fair to say that it is rarely, if ever, the case that we don’t have more meaning assigned to the values in our program above and beyond than their encoding as low-level storage representations.

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                                                                                                                    I think another good example of this situation is algorithmic code - the structure one would like to express (e.g. sortedness, sub-solution optimality, graph acyclicity) is often beyond what the type system can represent. You end up with numeric arrays / matrices / edge lists without much further type structure.

                                                                                                                    At the opposite end is either unit-heavy code (as in your example) or structure-heavy code (e.g. configs / ASTs / requests), both of which significantly benefit from what a typical type system offers.

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                                                                                                                      If all the types in your program really are strings, and you’re just moving text around you would likely be hindered by types.

                                                                                                                      Could you give an example of such a program? I deal with strings relatively often, but the bulk of the logic in my programs (client-side JavaScript) benefit quite a bit from types (via TypeScript).

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                                                                                                                      Very cool! I really like the live updates. I’ll definitely keep this in mind!

                                                                                                                      By the way, is there a name for the query language? It might be useful to have such mini-languages as libraries - a parser that produces an AST, and maybe an interpreter skeleton. The actual interpreter code will likely be specific to the app it’s embedded in, but it’s always nice to be able to “port” your knowledge of primitives to another tool.

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                                                                                                                        Yeah, I intentionally kept the language totally separate – it’s there as the lang module in the repo. There isn’t a name for it, it’s roughly based on the SumoLogic query language which was roughly based on the Splunk query language.

                                                                                                                        The interpreter is currently tied a bit too tightly to the renderer which would make it hard to reuse. It’s on my TODO list though :-)

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                                                                                                                        In case anyone else doesn’t feel like reading the whole article, here’s what I took to be Stallman’s proposal:

                                                                                                                        The robust way to do that, the way that can’t be set aside at the whim of a government, is to require systems to be built so as not to collect data about a person. The basic principle is that a system must be designed not to collect certain data, if its basic function can be carried out without that data.

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                                                                                                                          Given that this clearly builds on WFC, the “attribution” in the Related Work section seems rather understated to me:

                                                                                                                          The “Most Constrained Placement with Fuzzy Arc Consistency” solver is similar to the Wave Function Collapse project by @ExUtumno.

                                                                                                                          To make sure I’m not misreading the situation, I went and checked the commit log and, indeed, the first commit implementing a WFC-like algorithm - 01bc61 - has the commit message

                                                                                                                          holy shit, wave function collapse works.

                                                                                                                          The stuff before 01bc61 is from 2015 and implements something else.

                                                                                                                          In light of this, some sort of reference – say, “there’s this popular algorithm called WFC that I’m using as the starting point” – should be in the intro sentence of the article.

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                                                                                                                            It’s interesting to observe how the lobste.rs debate culture forced this discussion into its most civil and productive form.

                                                                                                                            All of the above threads are a really good read for anyone trying to understand what each side’s good-faith arguments as well as their “sales pitches” look like and what their effects (on a micro scale) are.

                                                                                                                            Apropos, as far as I can tell there are 3 sides/factions to this, at least judging by the sample here. I’d be curious to hear if anyone sees a different clustering.

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                                                                                                                              Yeah. I’m always impressed by civility here as I remember what happened with same topics on other sites.