Homo homini rodentius est

50 Shots of Injustice

Victims of police brutality
Victims of police brutality: Michael Stewart, Eleanor Bumpers, Antoine Reid, Abner Louima, Patrick Dorismond, Amadou Diallo, Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Stansbury, Sean Bell

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
— Robert Kennedy, quoting Aeschylus, following the assassination of Martin Luther King.

This week, 3 New York City police officers were acquitted of the wrongful death of Sean Bell, who was gunned down in a hail of 50 bullets after leaving a bachelor party the night before he was to be married. The details of the case can be recovered from the [New York Times] site and I won’t recount them here. I’ll just comment on the fact that when I heard the judgment, which I was dreading, I felt sick. I dreaded it because I feared that it would play out as so many similar cases in this city had over the years: police officers in a tense situation overreact and apply deadly force in a situation that did not warrant it. The police would be acquitted because in an ambiguous situation the onus is on the victim — especially if they are black — to avoid death. This case, as those that preceded it, reminds us in the starkest way that black people in New York City live in a state of siege. Sequestered in ghettos still, disproportionately vulnerable to the ravages of crime and too often assumed to be dangerous by those who are charged with their protection.

The first night I lived in this city as an adult, in 1983, I was wakened from sleep on a blisteringly hot September night by the sounds of a man screaming for his life. I got out of bed and looked down into Union Square to see a group of police officers crowding a crumpled figure lying before them on the ground. “Good,” I thought, “they got him,” thinking that the figure on the ground must have been the one attacking the unseen victim. The next day we learned that the crumpled body had been Michael Stewart, a young black graffiti artist who had been beaten to death by the police following his arrest for spray painting a subway car. The officers involved were all acquitted.

Cases like Stewart’s and those represented in the photo focus our attention, but you can’t live in this city without being made to face, everyday, the commonplace soul-destroying injustices that are perpetrated against black people and that become the perverse representation of normalcy. Every time I see a cab driver pass by a black woman with children because he’s afraid she will bring him into a black neighborhood, or a group of young black men given wide berth on the street because of what they are wearing I can’t imagine how so many people can endure so many hurts for so long. Living a life where just leaving your house in the morning becomes a test of courage.

Yahoo needs a strong husband

Yang Drone
Haven’t you heard? Resistance is futile.

While the ongoing Yahoo-Microsoft nuptials play out (picture a lumbering brutish Steve Ballmer of Microsoft dragging Yahoo’s squealing Yang by the hair to the altar), those of us who actually consume their services are left wondering what the impact will be of the seemingly inevitable consummation. Up until today I was in the camp who thinks it would be a bad marriage from the start because of cultural and technological differences. As a web developer who does more and more work outside of the Microsoft ecosystem I’ve come to depend on the tools and expertise that Yahoo makes freely available to those developing against open standards. There is a veritable treasure trove of material available from the [Yahoo Developer Network] site, including invaluable guidance on development best practices for “exceptional performance”. I admit, working fast and (often) dirty in a fast-paced company, I usually can only aspire to the kind of clean coding that Yahoo advocates — but it was comforting knowing that there were places like Yahoo where passionate people did the right thing as a matter of their culture. And it was the loss of that kind of culture that seemed at risk in the Microsoft takeover.

Then I did a little test. I compared the client-side code delivered to my browser by the portals of Yahoo (Yahoo.com), Google (iGoogle) and Microsoft (MSN.com). What I found surprised me: by far, Microsoft’s code was cleaner and more efficient. The entire MSN homepage clocked in at just 192K of code (html + javascript). Google unloaded 234K of code, but Yahoo dumped 384K of code — a huge amount for a web page. What was more surprising (and disappointing) was that inspection of the Yahoo code showed that it was a hopeless hairball of CSS and Javascript that violated most of the recommendations their own [“exceptional performance”] evangelists tout. I wouldn’t want to be the guy who has to maintain that site… Just for kicks I submitted all three sites to the W3C [site validator] — the code cop of the interweb. Only Microsoft’s site passed. Now I understand why the Yahoo Developer Network has videos showing their standards evangelists presenting internally — they’re trying to convert the brethren.

In retrospect, it kind of makes sense. The dope on Yahoo and Google is that they are cool places to work; very young, very quick. Microsoft, on the other hand is the Borg — a collective of corporate drones; not young, not quick. But as anyone who has worked in a large company knows — youth and speed is often a deadly combination. Young workers — and young companies, too — can benefit from the structure that a boring established organization can confer. I think Yahoo could benefit from the cultural embrace of the Borg — and the collective could benefit from an infusion of new ideas. Time will tell.

Portal War

William Shatner is Rocket Man

“Oh no no no… I’m a Rocket Man!

Five minutes of excruciating cultural perfection. A brief appearance by Karen Black just adds to the exquisite horror.

Google Cedes Enterprise to Microsoft

Google Vs. Office

Last week a number of fairly momentous events happened related to Google: 1) Their stock briefly dropped to $488.52 a share — a staggering 35% off its intra-day high of $747.24 set last November, 2) Microsoft announced a bid to takeover Yahoo in a move aimed straight at Google’s heart, and, 3) Google basically admitted defeat in its attempt to sell their online productivity application suite to enterprise customers.

The first two items have been covered to death by both the mainstream press and bloggers, but the third item sort of slipped by. The New York Times [reported] that Google has released a “Team” version of their Google Apps suite that allow individual’s to sign up for shared workspaces and access to online apps by providing their company email address. Once registered, they are automatically added to a group with all other people in their organization who have signed up and — presto! — they now have the benefit of using Google’s applications and collaboration tools for FREE, and without ever having to bother with those nasty nerds in their IT department. Nick Carr, who believes that IT departments are going the way of mastodons and saber-tooth tigers, [describes] Google’s apparent end-run around corporate channels to bring customers (well, they’re not really customers yet are they since they don’t pay…) into the “cloud” and grow their business virally. According to the conventional wisdom, this is wily Google doing what they do — upending traditional business sales models — by getting a cadre of users to pressure their companies to (eventually) shell out $50/seat to license the full enterprise suite. But Nick and others may be pulling too strenuously at the Kool-Aid spigot.

There’s another way to look at it — from someone who works in IT at a very large marketing firm: Google, lacking the ability to sell their products in to enterprise customers through traditional channels (their recent 8K filing indicates that fees from “Licensing and other revenues” — i.e., non-advertising related income — only amounts to $69MM and still makes up just 1% of their total revenue) have decided to risk poisoning those relationships for the foreseeable future by executing this “end run” to end users. The only companies that would not have a very big problem with what they have done are small shops, without large IT departments of their own and without a roster of clients who expect or demand strict control over the management of their proprietary materials.

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The Year of the Rat

Chinese New Year Parade
New Year’s Parade down Mott Street in Chinatown, February 10 2008.

How could I not be on hand to celebrate the Year of the Rat? Saw lots of dragons but no rats of the decorative or (mercifully) authentic type. Besides me, that is. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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