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There is much I take for granted in my life, and the normal functioning of American government is one of those things. In my 46 years, I've lived under nine different presidents. The first I remember is Carter. I've voted in every presidential election since 1992, but I do not consider myself a Democrat, or a Republican. I vote based on leadership – above all, leadership – and issues.
In my 14 years of blogging, I've never written a political blog post. I haven't needed to.
It is quite clear something has become deeply unglued in the state of American politics.
The nuclear doomsday clock was just moved as close to midnight as it has been in 64 years.
America was downgraded from a Democracy to a Flawed Democracy.
As of 2017, the United States, through a sequence of highly improbable events, managed to elect an extremely controversial president.
Asked about Trump’s statements proposing the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border and a ban on all Muslims entering the country, Thiel suggested that Trump supporters do not actually endorse those policies.
“I don’t support a religious test. I certainly don’t support the specific language that Trump has used in every instance,” he said. “But I think one thing that should be distinguished here is that the media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally.”
The billionaire went on to define how he believes the average Trump supporter interprets the candidate’s statements. “I think a lot of voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally, so when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment their question is not, ‘Are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China?’ or, you know, ‘How exactly are you going to enforce these tests?’ What they hear is we’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy.”
A little over a week into the new presidency, it is obvious that Trump meant every word of what he said. He will build a US-Mexico wall. And he signed an executive order that literally, not figuratively, banned Muslims from entering the US — even if they held valid green cards.
As I said, I vote on policies, and as an American, I reject these two policies. Our Mexican neighbors are not an evil to be kept out with a wall, but an ally to be cherished. One of my favorite people is a Mexican immigrant. Mexican culture is ingrained deeply into America and we are all better for it. The history of America is the history of immigrants seeking religious freedom from persecution, finding a new life in the land of opportunity. Imagine the bravery it takes to leave everything behind, your relatives, your home, your whole life as you know it, to take your entire family on a five thousand mile journey to another country on nothing more than the promise of a dream. I've never done that, though my great-great grandparents did. Muslim immigrants are more American than I will ever be, and I am incredibly proud to have them here, as fellow Americans.
Trump is the first president in 40 years to refuse to release his tax returns in office. He has also refused to divest himself from his dizzying array of businesses across the globe, which present financial conflicts of interest. All of this, plus the hasty way he is ramrodding his campaign plans through on executive orders, with little or no forethought to how it would work – or if it would work at all – speaks to how negligent and dangerous Trump is as the leader of the free world. I want to reiterate that I don't care about party; I'd be absolutely over the moon with President Romney or President McCain, or any other rational form of leadership at this point.
It is unclear to me how we got where we are today. But echoes of this appeal to nationalism in Poland, and in Venezula, offer clues. We brought fact checkers to a culture war … and we lost. During the election campaign, I was strongly reminded of Frank Miller's 1986 Nuke story arc, which I read in Daredevil as a teenager — the seductive appeal of unbridled nationalism bleeding across the page in stark primary colors.
Nuke is a self-destructive form of America First nationalism that, for whatever reasons, won the presidency through dark subvocalized whispers, and is now playing out in horrifying policy form. But we are not now a different country; we remain the very same country that elected Reagan and Obama. We lead the free world. And we do it by taking the higher moral ground, choosing to do what is right before doing what is expedient.
I exercised my rights as a American citizen and I voted, yes. But I mostly ignored government beyond voting. I assumed that the wheels of American government would turn, and reasonable decisions would be made by reasonable people. Some I would agree with, others I would not agree with, but I could generally trust that the arc of American history inexorably bends toward justice, towards freedom, toward equality. Towards the things that make up the underlying American dream that this country is based on.
This is no longer the case.
I truly believe we are at an unprecedented time in American history, in uncharted territory. I have benefited from democracy passively, without trying at all, for 46 years. I now understand that the next four years is perhaps the most important time to be an activist in the United States since the civil rights movement. I am ready to do the work.
I have never once in my life called my representatives in congress. That will change. I will be calling and writing my representatives regularly, using tools like 5 Calls to do so.
I will strongly support, advocate for, and advertise any technical tools on web or smartphone that help Americans have their voices heard by their representatives, even if it takes faxing to do so. Build these tools. Make them amazing.
I have set up large monthly donations to the ACLU which is doing critical work in fighting governmental abuse under the current regime.
I wish to see the formation of a third political party in the United States, led by those who are willing to speak truth to power like Evan McMullin. It is shameful how many elected representatives will not speak out. Those who do: trust me, we're watching and taking notes. And we will be bringing all our friends and audiences to bear to help you win.
I will be watching closely to see which representatives rubber-stamp harmful policies and appointees, and I will vote against them across the ticket, on every single ticket I can vote on.
I will actively support all efforts to make the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact happen, to reform the electoral college.
To the extent that my schedule allows, I will participate in protests to combat policies that I believe are harmful to Americans.
I am not quite at a place in my life where I'd consider running for office, but I will be, eventually. To the extent that any Stack Overflow user can be elected a moderator, I could be elected into office, locally, in the house, even the senate. Has anyone asked Joel Spolsky if he'd be willing to run for office? Because I'd be hard pressed to come up with someone I trust more than my old business partner Joel to do the right thing. I would vote for him so hard I'd break the damn voting machine.
I want to pay back this great country for everything it has done for me in my life, and carry the dream forward, not just selfishly for myself and my children, but for everyone's children, and our children's children. I do not mean the hollow promises of American nationalism …
We would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.
Is not nationalism—that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder—one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?
These ways of thinking—cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on— have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.
… but the enduring values of freedom, justice, and equality that this nation was founded on. I pledge my allegiance to the American dream, and the American people – not to the nation, never to the nation.
I apologize that it's taken me 46 years to wake up and realize that some things, like the American dream, aren't guaranteed. There will come a time where you have to stand up and fight for them, for democracy to work. I will.
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Today's processors contain billions of heat-generating transistors in an ever shrinking space. The power budget might go from:
- 1000 watts on a specialized server
- 100 watts on desktops
- 30 watts on laptops
- 5 watts on tablets
- 1 or 2 watts on a phone
- 100 milliwatts on an embedded system
three four orders of magnitude. Modern CPU design is the delicate art of placing an inferno on the head of a pin.
Look at the original 1993 Pentium compared to the 20th anniversary Pentium:
3.2 million transistors
3.2 Ghz × 2 cores
128kb L1, 512kb L2, 3MB L3
1.4 billion transistors
I remember cooling the early CPUs with simple heatsinks; no fan. Those days are long gone.
A roomy desktop computer affords cooling opportunities (and thus a watt budget) that a laptop or tablet could only dream of. How often will you be at peak load? For most computers, the answer is "rarely". The smaller the space, the higher the required performance, the more … challenging your situation gets.
Sometimes, I build servers.
Inspired by Google and their use of cheap, commodity x86 hardware to scale on top of the open source Linux OS, I also built our own servers. When I get stressed out, when I feel the world weighing heavy on my shoulders and I don't know where to turn … I build servers. It's therapeutic.
Servers are one of those situations where you may be at full CPU load more often than not. I prefer to build 1U servers which is the smallest rack mountable unit, at 1.75" total height.
You get plenty of cores on a die these days, so I build single CPU servers. One reason is price; the other reason is that clock speed declines proportionally to the number of cores on a die (this is for the Broadwell Xeon V4 series):
Yes, there are server CPUs with even more cores, but if you have to ask how much they cost, you definitely can't afford them … and they're clocked even slower. What we do is serviced better by a smaller number of super fast cores than a larger number of slow cores, anyway.
With that in mind, consider these two Intel Xeon server CPUs:
As you can see from the official Intel product pages for each processor, they both have a TDP heat budget of 140 watts. I'm scanning the specs, thinking maybe this is an OK tradeoff.
- E5-1630: 40w idle, 170w mprime
- E5-1650: 55w idle, 250w mprime
I am here to tell you that Intel's TDP figure of 140 watts for the 6 core version of this CPU is a terrible, scurrilous lie!
This caused a bit of a problem for me as our standard 1U server build now overheats, alarms, and throttles with the 6 core CPU — whereas the 4 core CPU was just fine. Hey Intel! From my home in California, I stab at thee!
But, you know..
The 1.75" maximum height of the 1U server form factor doesn't leave a lot of room for creative cooling of a CPU. But you can switch from an Aluminum cooler to a Copper one.
Copper is significantly more expensive, plus heavier and harder to work with, so it's generally easier to throw an ever-larger mass of aluminum at the cooling problem when you can. But when space is a constraint, as it is with a 1U server, copper dissipates more heat in the same form factor.
The famous "Ninja" CPU cooler came in identical copper and aluminum versions so we can compare apples to apples:
- Aluminum Ninja — 24C rise over ambient
- Copper Ninja — 17C rise over ambient
You can scale the load and the resulting watts of heat by spinning up MPrime threads for the exact number of cores you want to "activate", so that's how I tested:
- Aluminum heatsink — stable at 170w (mprime threads=4), but heat warnings with 190w (mprime threads=5)
- Copper heatsink — stable at 190w (mprime threads=5) but heat warnings with 230w (mprime threads=6)
Each run has to be overnight to be considered successful. This helped, noticeably. But we need more.
Better Thermal Interface
When it comes to server builds, I stick with the pre-applied grey thermal interface pad that comes on the heatsinks. But out of boredom and a desire to experiment, I …
- Removed the copper heatsink.
- Used isopropyl alcohol to clean both CPU and heatsink.
- Applied fancy "Ceramique" thermal compound I have on hand, using an X shape pattern.
I wasn't expecting any change at all, but to my surprise with the new TIM applied it took 5x longer to reach throttle temps with mprime threads=6. Before, it would thermally throttle within a minute of launching the test, and after it took ~10 minutes to reach that same throttle temp. The difference was noticeable.
That's a surprisingly good outcome, and it tells us the default grey goop that comes pre-installed on heatsinks is ... not great. Per this 2011 test, the difference between worst and best thermal compounds is 4.3°C.
But as Dan once bravely noted while testing Vegemite as a thermal interface material:
If your PC's so marginal that a CPU running three or four degrees Celsius warmer will crash it [or, for modern CPUs, cause the processor to auto-throttle itself and substantially reduce system performance], the solution is not to try to edge away from the precipice with better thermal compound. It's to make a big change to the cooling system, or just lower the darn clock speed.
An improved thermal interface just gets you there faster (or slower); it doesn't address the underlying problem. So we're not done here.
Most, but not all, of the SuperMicro cases I've used have included a basic fan duct / shroud that lays across the central fans and the system. Given that the case fans are pretty much directly in front of the CPU anyway, I've included the shroud in the builds out of a sense of completeness more than any conviction that it was doing anything for the cooling performance.
This particular server case, though, did not include a fan duct. I didn't think much about it at the time, but considering the heat stress this 6-core CPU and its 250 watt heat generation was putting on our 1U build, I decided I should build a quick duct out of card stock and test it out.
(I know, I know, it's a super janky duct! But I was prototyping!)
Sure enough, this duct, combined with the previous heatsink and TIM changes, enabled the server to remain stable overnight with a full MPrime run of 12 threads.
I think we've certainly demonstrated the surprising (to me, at least) value of fan shrouds. But before we get too excited, let's consider one last thing.
Define "CPU Load"
Sometimes you get so involved with solving the problem at hand that you forget to consider whether you are, in fact, solving the right problem.
In these tests, we defined 100% CPU load using MPrime. Some people claim MPrime is more of a power virus than a real load test, because it exerts so much heat pressure on the CPUs. I initially dismissed these claims since I've used MPrime (and its Windows cousin, Prime95) for almost 20 years to test CPU stability, and it's never let me down.
But I did more research and I found that MPrime, since 2011, uses AVX2 instructions extensively on newer Intel CPUs:
The newer versions of Prime load in a way that they are only safe to run at near stock settings. The server processors actually downclock when AVX2 is detected to retain their TDP rating. On the desktop we're free to play and the thing most people don't know is how much current these routines can generate. It can be lethal for a CPU to see that level of current for prolonged periods.
That's why most stress test programs alternate between different data pattern types. Depending on how effective the rotation is, and how well that pattern causes issues for the system timing margin, it will, or will not, catch potential for instability. So it's wise not to hang one's hat on a single test type.
This explains why I saw such a large discrepancy between other CPU load programs like BurnP6 and MPrime.
MPrime does an amazing job of generating the type of CPU load that causes maximum heat pressure. But unless your servers regularly chew through zillions of especially power-hungry AVX2 instructions this may be completely unrepresentative of any real world load your server would actually see.
Your Own Personal Inferno
Was this overkill? Probably. Even with the aluminum heatsink, no change to thermal interface material, and zero ducting, we'd probably see no throttling under normal use in our server rack. But I wanted to be sure. Completely sure.
Is this extreme? Putting 140 TDP of CPU heat in a 1U server? Not really. Nick at Stack Overflow told me they just put two 22 core, 145W TDP Xeon 2699v4 CPUs and four 300W TDP GPUs in a single Dell C4130 1U server. I'd sure hate to be in the room when those fans spin up. I'm also a little afraid to find out what happens if you run MPrime plus full GPU load on that box.
Servers are an admittedly rare example of big CPU performance heat and size tradeoffs, one of the few left. It is fun to play at the extremes, but the SoC inside your phone makes the same tradeoffs on a smaller scale. Tiny infernos in our pockets, each and every one.
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I'll admit I was late to the HTTPS party.
But post Snowden, and particularly after the result of the last election here in the US, it's clear that everything on the web should be encrypted by default.
You have an unalienable right to privacy, both in the real world and online. And without HTTPS you have zero online privacy – from anyone else on your WiFi, from your network provider, from website operators, from large companies, from the government.
The performance penalty of HTTPS is gone, in fact, HTTPS arguably performs better than HTTP on modern devices.
Using HTTPS means nobody can tamper with the content in your web browser. This was a bit of an abstract concern five years ago, but these days, there are more and more instances of upstream providers actively mucking with the data that passes through their pipes. For example, if Comcast detects you have a copyright strike, they'll insert banners into your web content … all your web content! And that's what the good guy scenario looks like – or at least a corporation trying to follow the rules. Imagine what it looks like when someone, or some large company, decides the rules don't apply to them?
So, how do you as an end user "use" encryption on the web? Mostly, you lobby for the websites you use regularly to adopt it. And it's working. In the last year, the use of HTTPS by default on websites has doubled.
Browsers can help, too. By January 2017, Google Chrome will show this alert in the UI when a login or credit card form is displayed on an unencrypted connection:
Additionally, Google is throwing their considerable weight behind this effort by ranking non-encrypted websites lower in search results.
But there's another essential part required for encryption to work on any websites – the HTTPS certificate. Historically these certificates have been issued by certificate authorities, and they were at least $30 per year per website, sometimes hundreds of dollars per year. Without that required cash each year, without the SSL certificate that you must re-purchase every year in perpetuity – you can't encrypt anything.
That is, until Let's Encrypt arrived on the scene.
Let's Encrypt is a 501.3(c)(3) non-profit organization supported by the Linux Foundation. They've been in beta for about a year now, and to my knowledge they are the only reliable, official free source of SSL certificates that has ever existed.
However, because Let's Encrypt is a non-profit organization, not owned by any company that must make a profit from each SSL certificate they issue, they need our support:
As a company, we've donated a Discourse hosted support community, and a cash amount that represents how much we would have paid in a year to one of the existing for-profit certificate authorities to set up HTTPS for all the Discourse websites we host.
I urge you to do the same:
Estimate how much you would have paid for any free SSL certificates you obtained from Let's Encrypt, and please donate that amount to Let's Encrypt.
If you work for a large company, urge them to sponsor Let's Encrypt as a fundamental cornerstone of a safe web.
If you believe in an unalienable right to privacy on the Internet for every citizen in every nation, please support Let's Encrypt.
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OK, yes, it's an extravagance. There's no question. But in my defense, it is a minor extravagance relative to a real pinball machine.
The mini is much smaller than a normal pinball machine, so it's easier to move around, takes up less space, and is less expensive. Plus you can emulate every pinball machine, ever! The Virtuapin Mini is a custom $3k build centered around three screens:
- 27" main playfield (HDMI)
- 23" backglass (DVI)
- 8" digital matrix (USB LCD)
Most of the magic is in those screens, and whether the pinball sim in question allows you to arrange the three screens in its advanced settings, usually by enabling a "cabinet" mode.
Let me give you an internal tour. Open the front coin door and detach the two internal nuts for the front bolts, which are finger tight. Then remove the metal lockdown bar and slide the tempered glass out.
The most uniquely pinball item in the case is right at the front. This Digital Plunger Kit connects the 8 buttons (2 on each side, 3 on the front, 1 on the bottom) and includes an analog tilt sensor and analog plunger sensor. All of which shows up as a standard game controller in Windows.
On the left front side, the audio amplifier and left buttons.
On the right front side, the digital plunger and right buttons.
The 27" playfield monitor is mounted using a clever rod assembly to the standard VESA mount on the back, so we can easily rotate it up to work on the inside as needed.
To remove the playfield, disconnect the power cord and the HDMI connector. Then lift it up and out, and you now have complete access to the interior.
Notice the large down-firing subwoofer mounted in the middle of the body, as well as the ventilation holes. The PC "case" is just a back panel, and the power strip is the Smart Strip kind where it auto-powers everything based on the PC being powered on or off. The actual power switch is on the bottom front right of the case.
Powering it up and getting all three screens configured in the pinball sim of your choice results in … magic.
It is a thoroughly professional build, as you'd expect from a company that has been building these pinball rigs for the last decade. It uses real wood (not MDF), tempered glass, and authentic metal pinball parts throughout.
I was truly impressed by the build quality of this machine. Paul of Virtuapin said they're on roughly version four of the machine and it shows. It's over 100 pounds fully assembled and arrives on a shipping pallet. I can only imagine how heavy the full size version would be!
That said, I do have some tweaks I recommend:
Make absolutely sure you get an IPS panel as your 27" playfield monitor. As arrived, mine had a TN panel and while it was playable if you stood directly in front of the machine, playfield visibility was pretty dire outside that narrow range. I dropped in the BenQ GW2765HT to replace the GL2760H that was in there, and I was golden. If you plan to order, I would definitely talk to Paul at VirtuaPin and specify that you want this IPS display even if it costs a little more. The 23" backglass monitor is also TN but the viewing angles are reasonable-ish in that orientation and the backglass is mostly for decoration anyway.
The improved display has a 1440p resolution compared to the 1080p originally shipped, so you might want to upgrade from the GeForce 750 Ti video card to the just-released 1050 Ti. This is not strictly required, as I found the 750 Ti an excellent performer even at the higher resolution, but I plan to play only fully 3D pinball sims and the 1050 Ti gets excellent reviews for $140, so I went for it.
Internally everything is exceptionally well laid out, the only very minor improvement I'd recommend is connecting the rear exhaust fan to the motherboard header so its fan speed can be dynamically controlled by the computer rather than being at full power all the time.
On the Virtuapin website order form the PC they provide sounds quite outdated, but don't sweat it: I picked the lowest options thinking I would have to replace it all, and they shipped me a Haswell based quad-core PC with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, even though those options weren't even on the order form.
I realize $3k (plus palletized shipping) is a lot of money, but I estimate it would cost you at least $1500 in parts to build this machine, plus a month of personal labor. Provided you get the IPS playfield monitor, this is a solidly constructed "real" pinball machine, and if you're into digital pinball like I am, it's an absolute joy to play and a good deal for what you actually get. As Ferris Bueller once said:
If you'd like to experiment with this and don't have three grand burning a hole in your pocket, 90% of digital pinball simulation is a widescreen display in portrait mode. Rotate one of your monitors, add another monitor if you're feeling extra fancy, and give it a go.
As for software, most people talk about Visual Pinball for these machines, and it works. But the combination of janky hacked-together 2D bitmap technology used in the gameplay, and the fact that all those designs are ripoffs that pay nothing in licensing back to the original pinball manufacturers really bothers me.
I prefer Pinball Arcade in DirectX 11 mode, which is downright beautiful, easily (and legally!) obtainable via Steam and offers a stable of 60+ incredible officially licensed classic pinball tables to choose from, all meticulously recreated in high resolution 3D with excellent physics.
As for getting pinball simulations running on your three monitor setup, if you're lucky the game will have a cabinet mode you can turn on. Unfortunately, this can be weird due to … licensing issues. Apparently building a pinball sim on the computer requires entirely different licensing than placing it inside a full-blown pinball cabinet.
Pinball Arcade has a nifty camera hack someone built that lets you position three cameras as needed to get the three displays. You will also need the excellent x360ce program to dynamically map joystick events and buttons to a simulated Xbox 360 controller.
Pinball FX2 added a cabinet mode about a year ago, but turning it on requires a special code and you have to send them a picture of your cabinet (!) to get that code. I did, and the cabinet mode works great; just enter your code, specify the coordinates of each screen in the settings and you are good to go. While these tables definitely have arcadey physics, I find them great fun and there are a ton to choose from.
Pro Pinball Timeshock Ultra is unique because it's originally from 1997 and was one of the first "simulation" level pinball games. The current rebooted version is still pre-rendered graphics rather than 3D, but the client downloads the necessary gigabytes of pre-rendered content at your exact screen resolution and it looks amazing.
Timeshock has explicit cabinet support in the settings and via command line tweaks. Also, in cabinet mode, when choosing table view, you want the bottom left one. Trust me on this! It supports maximum height for portrait cabinet mode.
Position each window as necessary, then enable fullscreen for each one and it'll snap to the monitor you placed it on. It's "only" one table, but arguably the most classic of all pinball sims. I sincerely hope they continue to reboot the rest of the Pro Pinball series, including Big Race USA which is my favorite.
I've always loved pinball machines, even though they struggled to keep up with digital arcade games. In some ways I view my current project, Discourse, as a similarly analog experience attempting to bridge the gap to the modern digital world:
The fantastic 60 minute documentary Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball has so many parallels with what we're trying to do for forum software.
Pinball is threatened by Video Games, in the same way that Forums are threatened by Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Snapchat. They're considered old and archaic technology. They've stopped being sexy and interesting relative to what else is available.
Pinball was forced to reinvent itself several times throughout the years, from mechanical, to solid state, to computerized. And the defining characteristic of each "era" of pinball is that the new tables, once you played them, made all the previous pinball games seem immediately obsolete because of all the new technology.
The Pinball 2000 project was an attempt to invent the next generation of pinball machines:
It wasn't a new feature, a new hardware set, it was everything new. We have to get everything right. We thought that we had reinvented the wheel. And in many respects, we had.
This is exactly what we want to do with Discourse – build a forum experience so advanced that playing will make all previous forum software seem immediately obsolete.
Discourse aims to save forums and make them relevant and useful to a whole new generation.
So if I seem a little more nostalgic than most about pinball, perhaps a little too nostalgic at times, maybe that's why.
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I don't think we computer geeks appreciate how profoundly the rise of the smartphone, and Facebook, has changed the Internet audience. It's something that really only happened in the last five years, as smartphones and data plans dropped radically in price and became accessible – and addictive – to huge segments of the population.
People may have regularly used computers in 2007, sure, but that is a very different thing than having your computer in your pocket, 24/7, with you every step of every day, fully integrated into your life. As Jerry Seinfeld noted in 2014:
But I know you got your phone. Everybody here's got their phone. There's not one person here who doesn't have it. You better have it … you gotta have it. Because there is no safety, there is no comfort, there is no security for you in this life any more … unless when you're walking down the street you can feel a hard rectangle in your pants.
It's an addiction that is new to millions – but eerily familiar to us.
From "only nerds will use the Internet" to "everyone stares at their smartphones all day long!" in 20 years. Not bad, team :-).— Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) January 16, 2015
The good news is that, at this moment, every human being is far more connected to their fellow humans than any human has ever been in the entirety of recorded history.
Spoiler alert: that's also the bad news.
Nextdoor is a Facebook-alike focused on specific neighborhoods. The idea is that you and everyone else on your block would join, and you can privately discuss local events, block parties, and generally hang out like neighbors do. It's a good idea, and my wife started using it a fair amount in the last few years. We feel more connected to our neighbors through the service. But one unfortunate thing you'll find out when using Nextdoor is that your neighbors are probably a little bit racist.
I don't use Nextdoor myself, but I remember Betsy specifically complaining about the casual racism she saw there, and I've also seen it mentioned several times on Twitter by people I follow. They're not the only ones. It became so epidemic that Nextdoor got a reputation for being a racial profiling hub. Which is obviously not good.
Social networking historically trends young, with the early adopters. Facebook launched as a site for college students. But as those networks grow, they inevitably age. They begin to include older people. And those older people will, statistically speaking, be more racist. I apologize if this sounds ageist, but let me ask you something: do you consider your parents a little racist? I will personally admit that one of my parents is definitely someone I would label a little bit racist. It's … not awesome.
The older the person, the more likely they are to have these "old fashioned" notions that the mere presence of differently-colored people on your block is inherently suspicious, and marriage should probably be defined as between a man and a woman.
In one meta-analysis by Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips of Columbia University, a majority of 18–29 year old Americans in 38 states support same sex marriage while in only 6 states do less than 45% of 18–29 year olds support same-sex marriage. At the same time not a single state shows support for same-sex marriage greater than 35% amongst those 64 and older
The idea that regressive social opinions correlate with age isn't an opinion; it's a statistical fact.
Support for same-sex marriage in the U.S.
18 - 29 years old 65% 30 - 49 years old 54% 50 - 64 years old 45% 65+ years old 39%
Are there progressive septuagenarians? Sure there are. But not many.
To me, failure to support same-sex marriage is as inconceivable as failing to support interracial marriage. Which was not that long ago, to the tune of the late 60s and early 70s. If you want some truly hair-raising reading, try Loving v. Virginia on for size. Because Virginia is for lovers. Just not those kind of lovers, 49 years ago. In the interests of full disclosure, I am 45 years old, and I graduated from the University of Virginia.
With Nextdoor, you're more connected with your neighbors than ever before. But through that connection you may also find out some regressive things about your neighbors that you'd never have discovered in years of the traditional daily routine of polite waves, hellos from the driveway, and casual sidewalk conversations.
To their immense credit, rather than accepting this status quo, Nextdoor did what any self-respecting computer geek would do: they changed their software. Now, when you attempt to post about a crime or suspicious activity …
… you get smart, just in time nudges to think less about race, and more about behavior.
The results were striking:
Nextdoor claims this new multi-step system has, so far, reduced instances of racial profiling by 75%. It’s also decreased considerably the number of notes about crime and safety. During testing, the number of crime and safety issue reports abandoned before being published rose by 50%. “It’s a fairly significant dropoff,” said Tolia, “but we believe that, for Nextdoor, quality is more important than quantity.”
I'm a huge fan of designing software to help nudge people, at exactly the right time, to be their better selves. And this is a textbook example of doing it right.
Would using Nextdoor and encountering these dialogs make my aforementioned parent a little bit less racist? Probably not. But I like to think they would stop for at least a moment and consider the importance of focusing on the behavior that is problematic, rather than the individual person. This is a philosophy I promoted on Stack Overflow, I continue to promote with Discourse, and I reinforce daily with our three kids. You never, ever judge someone by what they look like. Consider what they do instead.
If you were getting excited about the prospect of validating Betteridge's Law yet again, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I truly do believe software, properly designed software, can not only help us be more civil to each other, but can also help people – maybe even people you love – behave a bit less like racists online.
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