Scott Hanselman

Don't Give Bile a Permalink - Finding Balance within The No Asshole Rule

April 29, 2009 Comment on this post [84] Posted in Musings
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I asked on Twitter today if it was "OK to be a dick as long as you were introspective about it?" I received a few responses, including one asking if I'd be more gender-neutral and pick a word like asshole instead. You can't please everyone. Forgive my language in this instance.

There's a lot of discussion on the Interweb right now about an individual in a technical community who used some imagery in a technical presentation at a technical conference that could be described as gender-insensitive. That's a Politically Correct way to say it. Another way to say it is that a guy used a porn metaphor and soft-core porn imagery in a technical presentation in front of a gender-mixed technical crowd.

Boiled down, the issue ultimately was not just about the images as it relates to gender, but rather that the images and the presentation metaphor was simply in poor taste. Certainly, taste in this context is subjective, but it's easier than you think to find the limits of good taste.

Dana Jones had this very erudite comment on a Rails mailing list:

Imagine a presentation about recruiting developers for your firm with the analogous presentation: "Big Game Hunting", replete with pictures of dead animals smilingly displayed by the hunters who killed them. Hunting is a perfectly legal sport and one which I personally have no objections to (just as I have no objections to porn), but do graphic images that will likely disturb at least *some* audience members really have a place?

What about a presentation about writing code on deadline: "Delivering Like a Birth Mom." Or how about graphic images of up-close breastfeeding in a talk titled "Nursing Your Projects Along."

These parallel theoretical presentations of Dana's brilliantly provide the boundaries of good taste vs. poor taste in this context. "I know it when I see it" is a truism. But with all subjective opinion, one man's norm is another's outlier.

That technical community is discussing the issue and working it out. One of the related posts by DHH, the creator of Ruby on Rails - but not the presenter in question - had an interesting post called "I'm an R-rated individual." It's basically a disclaimer/declaration that he's loud and proud and may offend. Some folks believe Rails.equal?(DHH) but that's of course, short-sighted.

This paragraph of David's post is excellent:

Blending like this isn't free. You're bound to upset, offend, or annoy people when you're not adding heavy layers of social sugarcoating. I choose to accept that trade because my personal upside from congruence is that I find more energy, more satisfaction, and more creativity when the bulls**t is stripped away.

A lot of people are talking about personal brand and "image management" right now, and it's easy to say, "oh, so-and-so is a jerk." and write them off. The reason that paragraph is so insightful is because DHH expresses two things. One, he consciously chooses his path. +1 Wisdom there. And Two, he realizes there are "isn't free." +2 Introspection. Like a guy/gal or not, but give them credit for deciding to be someone. Feel bad if someone is a jerk and doesn't realize it. I thinking living consciously and unapologetically is to be commended.

DHH's path is not for everyone. It's not for me. I believe one should avoid being overtly offensive whenever possible and appropriate, public or private. I expend a some amount of effort being a consensus builder (perhaps because I'm an ENFJ and DHH is, I'm guessing, likely an ENTP) and I think one can be real without being rude. I encourage others to do the same.

However, it depends on what you feel strongly about and if what you feel strongly about outweighs what you believe others might feel. You need to be yourself, but you there ARE social norms, and others feelings, that should be considered.

@mstum on Twitter said: I'd rather have honest f-bombs than gentlemen hypocrites... Honest and direct people are so much easier to work with.

But can't one be an honest gentleman? Why is online (or offline) use of the F-word and general crassness somehow exemplary of "honesty?" If someone swears and slams their hand on a table in a business meeting I don't immediately think "Whew, finally an honest person!"

Being generally pleasant and helpful isn't sugarcoating, it's being pleasant and helpful.

@David_Ing said: Different worlds I guess. Reminds me of high school. Makes me feel old. Edgy douche is the new cool.

So where does it stop?

I had this conversation with Ade Miller on Twitter:

This may be a generation gap. I'm in my mid-30s and "social internet culture" for me doesn't automatically involve ending online arguments via reductio ad Hitlerum (Godwin's Law). Young people today (get off my lawn!) are largely more comfortable being unapologetically themselves online. I'm of a slightly older Internet generation that doesn't believe everyone is a unique snowflake and that if everyone behaves with a "this is me, like me or leave me alone" attitude then anarchy (ahem, or the internet) will emerge.

People believe strongly about some things and less strongly about others, and you'll never get everyone to agree. I certainly don't promote being a push-over. If something is an injustice, then, by all means speak up. There are some folks in the .NET community that people consider abrasive or have written off as jerks. But see it from their perspective! For them, there is a great injustice, or a number of them, and social norms be damned! I deeply respect this perspective.

For example, my wife is Black. If I post pictures of my wife on my blog, I risk alienating racists and folks against interracial marriage. However, that's a risk (hopefully small) that I'm willing to take, as I certainly feel strongly about it and I think I'm on the right side of history. I'm also a diabetic and I don't hide it. These are stands, small or large, that I'll take, as they are important to me.

You might knee-jerk and think that's a trite example. You might say "we're all too Politically Correct." This might be a true, but just because you want to avoid being Politically Correct doesn't mean you should email me and say, "Hey, how's your Black Wife? How's Diabetes sucking for you? Still blind?"

A question on code comments showed up on StackOverflow this week, and the most highly-voted answer included the F-word. An "Edit War" ensued, with members of the community switching a code sample back and forth between the actual F-word, and various other forms like F*ck, Frick, and Foolish.

I swear occasionally. I can appreciate the F-word as appropriate punctuation while simultaneously realizing its crassness. I don't typically swear in meetings. It's conceivable I would if I could find the right situation. Most everyone who speaks English realizes that the N-word is off limits. Americans also have other words that we Just Don't Use, although the British do. Using them in a meeting is certain death.

The point is that NOT using these words doesn't fundamentally make my life worse. DHH says:

"I find more energy, more satisfaction, and more creativity when the bulls**t is stripped away."

I respect that, and good for folks who agree. I respect everyone's right to say what they like.

If you're a nudist and you give your technical talks on C# naked, I likely won't be there to watch your talk. You may feel REALLY strongly about nudism, and I wish you well. You may believe in the legalization of drugs and prefer to give your technical presentations high, and I say, kudos, but I and others may not show.

There are some social norms, and you should know what they are and know how strongly you feel about them when you take your message to a larger audience. Know that there are consequences when what you value is broadcast in a larger context while promoting a technology. I've lost readers who have said I don't do enough deep technical content, or they find my "intensely personal" posts off-putting, but I'm conscious of my decisions and I feel strongly about the things I choose to discuss on my blog.

I respect DHH's perspective and others like him. Some are concerned that some edgy attitudes are preventing female programmers from embracing programming as a vocation. DHH says:

"You certainly have to be mindful when you're working near the edge of social conventions, but that doesn't for a second lead me to the conclusion that we should step away from all the edges. Finding exactly where the line goes — and then enjoying the performance from being right on it — requires a few steps over it here and there."

Again, another paragraph with layers. He knows where the edge is, enjoys dancing on the precipice jumping back. To dismiss him as merely loud and obnoxious is to do him (and people like him) a disservice.

I have set a level of what I consider reasonable professional conduct both online and offline. You should too. Know what THE edge is, know what YOUR edge is and know the effects of being near both. Decide what you feel strongly about and what you don't. Not everyone has the same norms, but everyone should know what the consequences are and measure them according to their own value system.

The advice that works for me is to avoid giving bile a permalink. Don't be a dick. If you are a dick, you don't get to complain when things go bad for you. There are consequences to all actions and they live on. They live on longer if you give them a permalink.

What do you think?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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April 29, 2009 11:47
This episode is rather interesting. Lost of people have been commenting on it, on Reddit, on Twitter and elsewhere.
I don't subscribe to the "stripping the BS" phrase from DHH. If anything, that presentation was adding BS that didn't need to be there, so much so that no-one is talking about the presentation itself and remember only the inappropriate imagery.

Basically, if you're part of the Ruby On Rail community, almost anything outside that narrow scope is by definition not part of it.
Porn, religion, politics, personal beliefs about nudism all have their space but are irrelevant and not part of the tacite social contract you engage in when joining a community that is not about these thing.
April 29, 2009 11:57
Everybody has a right to their opinion. Everybody has right to think. The problem is when people start to act like they think. And the stick and stones thing is just a fable. Words do hurt and everyone knows it. But who or what is responsible for setting the social norm? Is the social norm by definition the right norm (think back nazi germany)?

History has thought us many lessons, ... over and over and over again.

April 29, 2009 12:20
I think the keyword here is 'professional', what these guys are doing may be acceptable to like minded people but they are certainly not professional. Perhaps it’s a case of adding more ‘style’ to make up for a lack of valuable content with their presentations. I find that there is a tendency among attention seekers to deliberately try and shock or upset people to get the attention they crave, so ignoring them might just do the trick.
April 29, 2009 12:31
dcmgiv beat me to it.

Using material or language that's not strictly required to demonstrate the point, and which is likely to cause offence to parts of the audience, is unprofessional.

As you say, it's their call as to whether they choose to do that and accept the consequences.
April 29, 2009 13:38
There is a time and a place for everything. Even a time and a place for crude jokes, blue-collar humor, boobies, booze, and being an ass hole. I can't imagine that a technical presentation would be one of those appropriate times. Just because the Internet can quickly degrade to a global frat party, it doesn't mean that behavior is apprpriate everywhere.
April 29, 2009 13:57
So, how is the blindness?

On topic: 'unprofessional' seems a little vague - the definition of this (like 'reasonable' or 'proper') changes depending upon the audience, the place and time, and the topic (if we're talking about presentations here).

Being able to judge what is and isn't 'professional', taking all the factors into account, is an important skill of a good presenter.
April 29, 2009 14:00
Hey Scott,

Not meaning to blow smoke up your bum (is that the UK word?), but one of the things I admire and respect most about you is your attitude. You generally have a positive approach to your blogging, to learning and to life. And I gravitate towards that because that's the kind of attitude that I wish to cultivate in myself.

But, I think the Internet is big enough for us all. There's some who think posting a F-bomb on a slide is f'ing cool and others who won't. It's not so cool to blind-side your audience in a presentation, but word will get around and those who aren't impressed will drift away. And life will go on =).
April 29, 2009 15:22
English realizes that the N-word is off limits

Never heard of a bad N-word, yet.
April 29, 2009 15:32

i think i am with you on this. my dealings with you have always been in a fora and i have found you pleasantly,
comfortably decent in my prudish (get off my friggin lawn) ways. still, that doesn't mean you are a saint!! i
mean, look a it was a shock to me!! @shanselman you potty mouth!! :)

seriously, ithink it should be the what, when, why and how something is said or done that should matter
April 29, 2009 16:37
Well, I'd like to share a couple things.

How's my black wife? I don't have one, but I do have a significantly overweight girlfriend. She's adorable, sweet and treats me like gold. How's my diabetes sucking? It's a pain, but not too much of one when I pay attention to handling it. There's never been anything wrong with embracing yourself and being proud of who you are.

That said, there's a little thing called decorum that a lot of people should learn. There's something to be said for making intelligent arguments -- and I think, evidently much like you, that there's a certain satisfaction to be gained from accomplishing through intelligence and thoughtful speech what others accomplish through vitriol and foul language.

"Cut out the bulls**t" but be a reasonable human being about it. It's a message I like and like to practice. Well composed, sir.
April 29, 2009 17:28
Okay, phhhew. For a second there, because of your photo, I thought Martin Fowler was the one that did the presentation in question. After a little googling, I am very happy to find out it was not him. Now he can continue to be my hero.
April 29, 2009 18:05
one, society has rules for a reason. not that it isn't OK to challenge those rules once in a while - IMHO in a technical presentation like this isn't the place or time to do it - but if we don't have these kinds of discussions when the rules get bent. society won't ever progress, and without the rules, all we have is anarchy. (or like scott said, the internet :).

two, i don't believe it's necessary to dance on the edges of socity's standards to dance on the bleeding edge of technology; and showing that you're on society's edge doesn't necessarily show that you know squat about technology.
April 29, 2009 18:09
This reminds me of something you see a lot on various forums. Someone will ask if they should wear a suit to a programming interview. You'll get a boatload of post proclaiming that what you wear doesn't matter, it's all about how good you are at your job etc. A few posts later these same people will say that anyone who wears a suit is a phony, they're just trying to brown nose, yadda, yadda yadda. When you point out that they are doing the exact same thing they are accusing others of doing, they don't seem to make the connection.
As far as the Honest, No BS talk goes, I find it does have a practical hindrance. I work with some people who swear about everything, constant complaining that every little thing is a disaster, and everyone besides them is a moron. It's like marking all your emails with High Priority. I don't know when they are really concerned about something or just running at the mouth.
April 29, 2009 18:12
Some years ago, I had given an intelligence test, to a young man, that measures basic native abilities, not perfectly but more so than the usual tests. It was clear that he would have a great deal of difficulty articulating experience in words; but almost certainly would excel at 3-D art (think: sculpture). Many sculptors are noted for their use of profanity, as they struggle to articulate their inner thoughts: the two functions, verbal articulation and 3-D thinking, pretty much occupy the same brain area. He was already doing 2-D art, but based on my feedback to him, decided to try a course in 3-D art. He came back to me a few months later and remarked that from the first moment doing 3-D art, he felt as thought he was home, that this was where he belonged.

Constructing a framework is very much a 3-D cognitive activity, if the framework is to have those creative junctions that distinguish the stellar from the mundane. Constructing a behemoth of an organization that has those creative junctions requires a similar cognitive activity (think: Microsoft).

We accept that people's bodies are different (and surgeons will tell you how very different they can be: those drawings you see are an average, not what the surgeon encounters). We would do well to accept that people's cognitive strengths and weaknesses are different. They are different in ways that are even, somewhat, predictable.

So, for me, the issue is whether the package has value, keeping in mind the old saying, "tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner." Where the bleat of dysphasia is part of the person's passion of the moment, I am likely to have little issue with it. Where it is part of a planned presentation, so that passion of the moment is not a possibility, I would be left wondering at the presenter's ability to see perspectives other than his/her own, and then led to speculate (on some, but little, information) on what effects this deficiency has on the work being presented.

Short story: we need to have a lot of tolerance for the fruits of passion and creativity, because they manifest differently in different people. We don't need to have, and should not have (because we have, at the least, a social obligation to testify to our values through our actions) tolerance for those actions injurious to others that could, with prior reflection, have been made more thoughtful and caring.
April 29, 2009 18:18
I think people put too little importance on "intent." When you see someone doing/saying something questionable, the VERY FIRST thing you should wonder about is intent.

If it is possible to discern their intent from the situation (sometimes it is, often it admittedly is not) then you should use that intent to manage your own response to the situation.

In this case, the presenter's intent was VERY clear. There was NO intent to cause gender-related issues or any other audience-upsetting issues. It was clearly an attempt at levity. A poor attempt? Perhaps. But that was the intent and THAT is what is most important.

Once you have figured out the intent, you can go from there. In this case, the discussion Scott has in this blog post is - while I might say "a little much" - certainly in the right direction.

Some of the things being said about the presenter clearly did not take the first step of recognizing the intent. In that, the people with those reactions are, in my opinion, significantly worse than the "original offender."
April 29, 2009 18:25
"Americans also have other words that we Just Don't Use, although the British do"

Would you mind me asking what these words are? * Answers like "The L-word, G-word and W-word" would be unhelpful
April 29, 2009 18:26
presentation gimicks are a last resort for those trying to defend a dieing concept.
April 29, 2009 18:31
"I respect DHH's perspective and others like him. Some are concerned that some edgy attitudes are preventing female programmers from embracing programming as a vocation."

This strikes me as rather sexist. Women are not delicate flowers that will wilt at the first sign of bad language.
April 29, 2009 18:42
You should get together with Wil Wheaton on the Don't Be A Dick thing.
April 29, 2009 18:55
"...I find more energy, more satisfaction, and more creativity when the bulls**t is stripped away."

While this might make a nice sound bite, that's really all it is. What "bulls**t" is he talking about? Being polite to people and respecting their feelings and their opinions instead of trampling on them for the sake of making yourself feel bigger and better than they are? Anyone who finds it necessary to engage in that kind of behavior to find "personal satisfaction" is not someone that I want to be around.

"I'd rather have honest f-bombs than gentlemen hypocrites... Honest and direct people are so much easier to work with."

I absolutely agree with your sentiment, Scott. The fact that this statement might actually be applicable to modern society - i.e. that there might actually be so few honest gentlemen in the world today that mstum could reasonable come to this conclusion - is incredibly disheartening. To think that for people to see me as "honest and direct" I have to curse every fifth word...its just sad, really.
April 29, 2009 18:56
Hear, Hear, Scott. These social norms aren't entirely superfluous. They're a way to try to keep tempers down, particularly when the subject matter lends itself to strong passions.

It'd be a shame if a really important topic wasn't given thorough consideration because of a shouting match induced by a little too much "keeping it real".

As much as I enjoy shock-value I have to acknowledge that different people have different thresholds. The broader your audience, the greater the chance that shock-value will undermine your message.

Uppitily Yours,
April 29, 2009 19:18
What about arrogance or mocking your readers for not being "hip" enough to understand the meaning or context of some demo code? I don't think that is really called for. Some people come your blog to learn.
April 29, 2009 19:47
If someone swears and slams their hand on a table in a business meeting I don't immediately think "Whew, finally an honest person!"

In my experience, the hand slamming usualy comes from someone who is unhappy because someone else has called "bs" about something and the hand slammer wants to get back to glossing over the issues.
April 29, 2009 19:51
"I'm in my mid-30s and "social internet culture" for me doesn't automatically involve ending online arguments via reductio ad Hitlerum (Godwin's Law)."

Is it in bad taste to 'invoke' Godwin's Law when Ayende is present? That's a real-life case (I was the invoker).
April 29, 2009 19:55
A former co-worker of mine still hates Scott, because Scott gave him a sarcastic answer during a Q & A session at the Patterns and Practices summit a few years ago. I don't think Scott was trying to be a *dick* (maybe funny?), but it just goes to show you how easy it is to offend somebody. Even when you try not to offend, you will no doubt do so. There are too many personality types.

"What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others." – Epictetus

April 29, 2009 20:11
I think you're right on here (posted a few thoughts on my blog as well. Society is filled with social contracts that you can take or leave, but understand that there are consequences. I find this all of the time with some of the communities I run, and some people just don't get it.
April 29, 2009 20:35
I'm in your same age bracket, and apparently of similar opinion about honest gentlemen/ladies. There's no reason to be foul or crude to make your point. To me such talk too often is a sign of a shallow mind. A lot of times I take it as a sign of an ignorant person though that doesn't apply to people like DHH or Zed.

Being louder and more insulting may shut down less aggressive and more civil people, but it doesn't make you right.

Also, I certainly am not a politically correct person, and don't back down from a civil discussion of opinions. I just don't find crude behavior becoming of any good person regardless of your viewpoint. So go ahead and be the biggest jerk you want, DHH or anyone else. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, but your right to speak doesn't mean I have to listen.
April 29, 2009 20:52
I know nothing of the presentation in question, so please take this with a grain (or bucket) of salt, but being a Canadian who lived most of his adult life in Europe who now lives in the US, I find that a pretty large portion of the people here have hangups about sex and nudity.

Again, I haven't seen the presentation, but could it be that the person giving it just didn't think a few soft porn images were a big deal?

Janet Jackson shows a covered breast on TV for a split second and there is national outrage, Obama makes says he wouldn't make the special olympics on Leno and half the country acts like he killed a puppy. We can talk about professionalism all we want, but what's more amazing to me is how the most powerful country on the face of the earth has become so whimpy and over the top politically correct?

This isn't an excuse for everyone to do anything they want in the name of "not being PC", but sometimes we need to step back for a minute and ask ourselves, why am I so upset here? Did what I see really affect my life so badly?
April 29, 2009 21:30
@Slag - Blindness is good. I got Lasik, so I'm cool now. ;)

@Configurator - Can't do that.

@Chrissie1 - As a Belgian, you may not be familiar with the N-word used to put down Black folks. This is considered off-limits and inappropriate in all instances.

@jdn - Bringing up Hitler to Israelis is a touchy thing and depends on the person. You could have had the same issue bringing up Hilter to an Jewish American that you did when talking to Ayende. The take-away of Godwin's Law, for me, is avoid Hitler comparisons. They serve little value.

@Andrew - Here's a female Ruby Programmer's well-reasoned take on the issue. The issue is to avoid inapporpriate associations. Let's say the presenter was gay and used male similar imagery. Prudish American or not, sex provides a poor platform on which to build technical apologies. The fact that we're talking about the imagery and not the technical content kind of makes that point. Folks have forgotten what the talk was about! ;)

@Nick - Yikes, that makes me sad. It's a shame that a body of work can be pushed aside with a single remark. Hate is a strong word, IMHO. Tell him I'm sorry.

@Tim - Agreed 100% on intent.

April 29, 2009 21:43
I think the idea of the misunderstand genius is a stereo type that is a little over played in the tech world, I know people in our industry that are just plain offensive, abusive, and it doesn't mater how smart they are if you can't work with someone, you can't work with them, and they have no place on your team.

A former co worker of mine was gay he was insistent that everyone know he was gay, that he was a gay rights activist, and rest of us had to listen to the endless drama of his fight for gay rights. Any criticism of him, or his work he tried to turn into something about him being gay. He Demanded that people be tolerant of his sexual orientation, and yet was one of the most intolerant people I have ever met, he loudly told other co-workers that he thought anyone with more than 4 kids should be forcibly neutered, this was directed at me, my parents had 11 kids. Almost no one could work with him because of his personal issues, and as a result he got canned.

Another person I worked with has a host of person and hygienic issues, he would shout profanity at his PC, had no problem telling people that they where being stupid and why. But on the other side he was an absolutely brilliant programmer, strong team player and generally he worked well with everyone.

Just because some one is "being them self" doesn't mean they should be tolerated, no one cared about the guy being gay, if he ad been an anti-gay activist or anything else it wouldn't have matter the guy couldn't work with the team. I think people are at time over sensitive to things that don't really matter, yet are the same time far to tolerant of things they shouldn't be. There are somethings that are never acceptable in a professional environment, and somethings change based on the group.
April 29, 2009 21:46
Fantastic post!! This is why this is THE programming blog!
April 29, 2009 22:14
Great thoughts, but surprising, because you were a remarkably intolerable asshole when we met. So much so, that you're still mentioned years later by other folks who were there as this brilliant guy who provides incredible value to the community but are an insufferable asshole to deal with in person.
April 29, 2009 22:18
Scott Rocks! and Get MS Project!
April 29, 2009 22:28
I think there may also be cultural differences. For example, I'm always amazed how people shout out "NSFW!!!!!" when a question contains the F-Word as part of the answer. It amazes me how that word can be NSFW, unless you work with children (not that they wouldn't know it...) There is indeed a line, and as I have a bit more than 140 Chars here, so let me elaborate on my reply.

First off: There can be honest gentlemen. I just did not meet much. Every person has edges, and some people are trying to hide them so hard, you never know to which personality you're speaking at a given moment. I found the people who are not trying to hide their edges too hard the most easy and comfortable to work with. That does not mean than that running around and dropping F-Bombs all day long is a good thing to do - it's usually not. But at the same time, someone who speaks out his opinion unbiased (be it with our without expletives) is at least giving you something to work with. You know that they hate a proposal/task/person, and that's fine. On the other hand, the people who are always trying to be nice and swallow stuff they don't like or believe in even if they can't stand a task/person often try so hard that the crash at the end (when they can't take it anymore) is more devastating.

It's possibly because I'm not good at "reading between the line" when it comes to people, but I feel more comfortable around people that show their edges. It also gives me the chance to tell my own opinion and to cut contact to them. If someone is a racist and let's you know from the beginning, that gives you the chance to put the person on your "Ignore List". But what if you work with someone and then you find out that he's attending KKK Sessions on the week-end? Is that better that the previous case? Is it worse? Does it even matter? I don't want to judge this. Personally, I prefer Option A, but everyone needs to make a decision for him-/herself.

On the other hand, it depends on what you want to reach and how to. If you want to do business with certain companies, you have to bend over. You want something from them (their money), not the other way round (unless you happen to be a monopolist in something). You are at their mercy, so you better play with their rules. Again, this is a decision you make. Do you want to sell Software to Enterprise? Or would you rather want to found the first nudist racist code camp? I won't attend to that, but I don't matter in your plans - you should not care about me, you should care about the other nudist racists in the world.

It's all choice. If you do something, deal with the fallout. Rushing into a Battle and then thinking about the consequences is a stupid idea. But making a well-founded and thought-out choice, evaluating the possible consequences and then deciding to do it is a good idea in my opinion.

I don't care if someone is nice or dropping swear words. I care if someone is honest or a hypocrite.
April 29, 2009 22:34
There seems to be irony here.

I watched some of the MIX '09 keynote address. One of the presenters announced that a many back issues of the Playboy magazine was now available online, thanks, in part, to Microsoft's Silverlight technology. If I remember correctly, it sounded like much of the audience was applauding, everyone that was visible seemed to have a big smile on their face and gave general sense of "wink, wink...nudge, nudge".

I agree that, based on what I have read about the Rails presentation, the presenter crossed a line. But, the presentation and response at MIX '09 may have added to the reasons he believes this line no longer exist.
April 29, 2009 22:39
I think you are very right in your writing here. Very good read.
April 29, 2009 23:02
@Tod - excellent point! I personally agree and was uncomfortable with the wink,wink aspects of the keynote and voted my 2 cents.

@Mkchael Stum - Right on. Better to let me flip the bozo bit up front if that's the goal. Being straightforward is priority one.

@Jason - Wow, that makes me sad. I was probably an asshole much more often when I was younger. If we were talking Tech or Bugs or whiteboarding, probably even more likely. When I was under 25 I was very arrogant. Worse yet, 10 years before that. I have made a concious decision in the last 10 years, with the help of my wife, to pay more attention to what comes out of my mouth. I like think it's helped, but I still have moments of assholishness. I apologize if I was "intolerable" to you. I can assure you I improve every day. If you'd like to have lunch and talk about the bad old days, give me a call, sincerely.
April 29, 2009 23:08

That's twice you've made a point of bringing up gender, it really is irrelavent to the conversation at hand to be honest.

Again, I wasn't there, so I can't comment on the individual images or even context of those images. Yes, I will gladly concede that the fact that nobody talks about what the presentation was about indicates that the presenter made a bad decision about what he/she showed. Then again, any topic that distracts your audience from the subject matter you are trying to present is a bad idea, it's just much easier to do that with sexual imagery than most other topics.

I will say one counterpoint though. Considering how many technical seminars occur on a regular basis, could it be possible that if this issue did not occur that nobody would be talking about the seminar at all, that it'd just be forgotten altogether? So we can say stuff like "it's bad because that's all we're talking about!" but how do we know it's not "If this didn't happen we would be talking about the seminar at all"? Back to Janet Jackson, if "Boobgate" hadn't happened, would anyone every talk about her performance at the Superbowl? I think we all know the answer to that is no.
April 29, 2009 23:15

"I think there may also be cultural differences. For example, I'm always amazed how people shout out "NSFW!!!!!" when a question contains the F-Word as part of the answer"

While I agree with your general point, there are some companies out there who literally monitor everything people do and scan for certain words. Obviously, this purtains to email more than anything else, but it does worry some people that somehow their HTML might be monitored (which I have no idea is even possible).

I think I'm in a different position than most, I'm an American who was born in Canada, but I have lived and worked in England, France, Australia, the US, Asia, Malta and a bit in Amsterdam which gives me a unique perspective on each culture. The negative reactions sexual imagery gets here in the US considering is amazing to me since we're just fine with showing people getting their head's blown off by a shotgun blast. But that's probably a discussion for another day. ;)
April 29, 2009 23:24
Thanks, Scott. It was years ago and we were both a lot younger.

Everyone is an asshole once in a while, but most assholes don't work to improve their behavior. I very much respect (and do my best to share) your efforts at self-improvement, and this post is proof enough that yours have already begun paying off.

I did not want to make you sad. I greatly appreciate your efforts in this community and you've helped tens of thousands of coders out there (including myself) solve their problems and be happier. Thank you for that.

I'll forward it around to the other parties that I still talk to and we'll call it totally resolved.
April 29, 2009 23:33
I find these issues very easy to handle. I am conscious and unapologetic about ignoring people who are conscious and unapologetic about being rude. Life's just too short, and of course there's nothing to indicate that rudeness and honesty are correlated in any way. To pride oneself with the lack of manners and then try to sell it as honesty is just laughable peacockery. In fact, it reminds me of Harry Frankfurt's notion of the bulls**tter, who aims primarily to impress and persuade his audience and has little use for the truth. Now how is that for irony?
April 29, 2009 23:40
@Andrew - As pro gun rights, living in a conservative state, I think there would be just as much reaction, if not more so if the person was to show a graphic violent act as opposed to a sexual one. I don't think either are appropriate for a professional presentation.
April 29, 2009 23:56

Agreed, neither has a place in *most* presentations. I was just speaking more of the ratings boards in the US, like the ones responsible for what is on TV or Movies as opposed to individuals. Obviously individuals will vary on what they approve of and what they don't, but you have to admit that it's a lot easier to get a violent movie a PG-13 rating than a movie with even tame sexual content.
April 30, 2009 0:15

If someone had a Pron mag in there bag at work and someone saw it, that person would get a talking to by there boss, and that would be it, if that same person had a gun in there bag (and had the proper permits for it) they would more then likely be terminated, no mater why they had it. I know of a lot of companies that would terminate employees if they had a firearm in there car. I understand the argument, I think it's flawed, but I understand it, On the other side I have never seen a company policy that states your not allowed to have pron in your car.
April 30, 2009 0:25
Great pic Scott, I'm jealous.

I think the decision boils down to do you want your message and intent to go deep or spread wide (no puns intended there, honestly!). Obviously we are always picking some point somewhere between maximum depth and maximum width. It is never all one way or the other IMO.

The less we dress up and dumb down what we're saying and how we feel then the better of an understanding our listeners will get. I believe that this is what DHH is advocating (or at least saying that he does). Unfortunately, the message will then appeal to fewer people.

And obviously the more we sugarcoat things or dumb them down, then the more our desired message becomes blurred. But *some* of it gets across to more people than with the other approach.

In the end, it just matters what your desire is. For technical matters I think there are good reasons to go with the former approach.

April 30, 2009 0:38
Richard, I'm a bit surprised that you can't tell the difference between violence on TV and someone bringing a gun to work. By your logic, I can have a framed 8x11 picture of me holding a gun that was taken on a hunting trip on my desk, but I can't have sex with my wife on my desk in the middle of the day, therefore America is anti-sex and pro-violence. See how silly that is?

If you feel like comparing a nudie magazine to anything, compare it to a gun magazine. If you want to find a comparison to a collegue bringing a gun to work, compare it to the same person getting naked and having sex on their desk at the work place. Even those comparisons are flawed, but lightyears better than what you were trying to compare.
April 30, 2009 0:40

Great point, but there is a difference between dumbing down or sugar coating vs disusing things at a high level. I think that sometimes people have a hard time distinguishing between the two.
April 30, 2009 1:08
What did I do wrong? Was my comment that foolish? I was just asking about exception handling and validation. I must be totally unhip.

Why the April fools joke?

Was there something glaring I missed in the demo code from nerd dinner? Do you want me to go away and stop reading this blog? I just don't get it.
April 30, 2009 1:12

you missed the point, I was never talking about TV, Movies, etc. I'm talking about a professional work environment, companies have a policy against guns (not pictures of guns) and against porn both are terminable offenses. The difference is unless the magazine is on your desk, it's not going to be that big of a deal, But I will go with your line of thought, if you had a magazine glorifying graphic violent acts (guns or no guns) with graphic images you would be out of there, and good riddance.

The point I was making is there is no place in a professional Tech presentation for Violent, sexual, abusive, or otherwise offensive material. If you feel you are required to, either your presentation skills are lacking or your subject mater is. Now I'm not talking about a little light hearted wink wink nudge nude you can see playboy online using silver light, unless you showed a pic I'm fairly sure no one is going to find that offensive, I'm talking about specifically being Crude or offensive. If you have to distinguish yourself by being offensive, there is a good change you don't have anything to offer me.
April 30, 2009 1:37
Richard, I never said otherwise. I'm not really sure what you think you are reading, but I can assure you that is not how I feel. You came up with some weird arguement comparing a dirty magazine in a gym bag to someone carrying a firearm, both of which are irrelavent to this coversation, so I'm really not sure were you are heading.

There is a fuzzy line somewhere about what is proper and what is not in a presentation, it's obvious not 100% clear since it's often crossed by people who don't really think they crossed it, or those who look back and say "yeah, I guess I went too far there, but in my head it wasn't that bad". Obviously there are others who go gungho and pass the line on purpose as well, more for effect than anything, so we can ignore those for now.

My main point of contention is that a few pepole seem to be trying to turn this into a gender issue, which it's not, my second point of contention was that Scott's "since we're only talking about the 'incident', not the presentation, it's obvious that the line was crossed" logic is flawed. There are a million presentations given every year that people watch and forget the second that they are over, how do we know this presentation would not have been one of these? The truth is, we don't Jim Mora once said about the NFL draft, "we think we know, but we just don't know." If there are no dirty pictures in the presentation, it easily could have faded into memory faster than the boring sandwich we had for lunch, that in no way supports what this person did, but at the same time we really need to get over the faux anger over things like this.

The guy showed some dirty pictures, fine, don't support his work ever again, don't pay to see him give talks, let the almighty dollar do the talking. But I can pretty much guarentee that a lot more people weren't offended than were.

April 30, 2009 1:55
Being brash and frankly rude is definitely not a sign of honesty, it's a sign of no self-control (not the same as self-censorship might I add) - It's the same as people who say "with all due respect" before they insult you horribly and personally (it's still just being rude at the end of the day).

However - regardless of that, the images in the presentation demonstrate a poor lapse of judgement for a technical conference setting and poor judgement is something that one can ill-afford to demonstrate whatever your profession (especially freelancers).
April 30, 2009 2:20
@Andrew -
you still missed the point, it isn't about dirty pictures, if you feel you have have to use shock, in this case soft porn, in your presentation there is a good chance your compensating for bad presentation skills or pour subject material, it isn't about if people where offended or not, it's about the intent of the presenter, if like you said before if nobody cared that he used a dirty pic then we wouldn't be talking about it, and he would have failed in his intent.

I know lots of people who like to watch Peta ads, and don't care about there message. When I go to a tech conference I go for substance not flash, and if all your going to give me is flash I'm not interested.
April 30, 2009 2:48

You are making the assumption that the presenter used dirty pictures for shock value, you could very well be right, but its still an assumption. The presenter could have also though that the pictures were no big deal, and if anyone had issues with them, they are being too sensitive. Again, I don't know that either. So really, we're talking about a whole bunch of what-ifs.

Personally, if I was in a presentation and someone used dirty pictures or dropped a few F-Bombs to get a point across (or for just shock value), I really wouldn't care, I'd evaluate the presentation on the most important factor, did I learn anything? If I didn't, the presentation was a failure whether it had dirty pictures/languages or not. If I did learn something, I'd probably mention to the presenter that they could have gotten their point across without the crude language/pictures. But either way, the content of the presentation is what would matter to me, not a few superfluous pictures/f-bombs.

Reminds me a few years ago of when I went and saw Rent while I was in Toronto, the first song of the second act (I believe, it's the one where they are all having dinner at a restaurant or something) makes some references to a certain religious figure, during the song a bunch of people walked out. My friend worked for the production company at the time and mentioned that every performance at least a few people leave at that exact point of the show and complain about the content. It's really just one line or two lines of the song, but these people who walk out let those few lines effect their entire view of a 2+ hour long musical production. Love it, hate it, or be completely indifferent to it fine, but let 5 seconds of a song shape your entire opinion of a production just seems sillyto me.

Maybe it's because I used to live two blocks away from the Red Light district in Amsterdam, or maybe it's just because I have more important things to deal with in my life, but frankly, I just wouldn't have cared that much if someone pulled this sort of thing in a presentation I was watching, it all seems like faux anger to me.
April 30, 2009 4:43
Didn't Don Box step out from behind a podium at a conference wearing only a conference speaker shirt and a smile? Sit nekkid in a bathtub during a keynote to intro SOAP? What bars speakers from being outlandish to make a point?

Lord, I miss George Carlin, get rid of this pinko-commie-fascist-bullshit-pansy-scared-of-pissing-anyone-off-crap and say what the fuck you mean.

Although, having seen the movie "From the Hip", I think I agree on changing from the use of "dick" to "asshole". Nothing quite captures the sentiment like word "asshole".

Rock on.
April 30, 2009 5:37

Having dealt with Scott before, I can assure you that
a) the man is a teddy bear
b) your comment likely has caused him to sit at his desk, quietly weeping for the next several hours.

Making a grown man cry? I think *THAT*'s the mark of an @$$h0le right there!!! You're such a dick Jason!! I HATE YOU

April 30, 2009 10:17
Kudos Scott. If it's your goal to be a representative of your company, or to promote your "personal brand", there is something to be said about being conscious about what you do or say. That is not to say you shouldn't asset your own uniquenes.

In today's internet age, there is a forum for everything. If you want to blog about being a nudist, or give conferences about being a nudist (while nude), then there are places you can do that, and you will most likely have a more receptive audience. Doing something just for the shock value of it to gain attention can be a silent killer for your career or image.

For instance, does everyone remember that commercial Carl's Junior aired with Paris Hilton washing a car with a risque outfit on insinuating sexual acts? The commercial was repulsive for some, for others I'm sure they Tivo'd it and played it in slow motion over and over (No, I did not do that by the way). Either way, the commerical achieved one of it's goals of gaining viewer attention regardless of how it went about it.

The question is, how many people were so repulsed by the commerical that they will never go to Carl's again? How many new customers did Carl's gain by running the ad? For the former question, Carl's may have lost some customers because of the commerical. If it was the advertising executives job to increase sales, this would clearly be counterproductive unless the number of new users exceeded the loss rate. Will Carl's ever be able to clearly quantify these losses or gains? Probably not. But the question is, was it worth it?

Back to the issue at hand. If it is my main goal to relay information to a broad audience, and I choose to be "a dick", invoke shock, or be condescending, am I really achieving my goal of "informing others" if other's are not willing to listen to message because I wasn't tactful at presenting it?
April 30, 2009 10:33
No matter how cool Ruby on Rails gets, I'll never program with it and immerse myself in their community. It's ALL about THEM - DHH and company - arrogant filthy-mouth jerks, and not the programming tools. We have choices.
April 30, 2009 16:30
It's the same as people who say "with all due respect" before they insult you horribly and personally (it's still just being rude at the end of the day).

I agree, fellow Jim. (Only in my experience it was "No offense, but..." I fully blame the TV show "JAG" for the surge in popularity of "with all due respect", by the by.)
April 30, 2009 18:38
Respect is a time-less value.

Being polite is a time-less value.

Principles such as 'Respect' and 'Politeness' - treat your neighbor as you would treat yourself.

I attempt to practice those principles in my day to day life. I respect and honor those that also do that.

ie. I recommend and purchase products from companies that have core principles.
ie. I don't support companies that don't have those core principles.

It's not about being 'PC', it's about respecting your audience as a core life principle.

No food is unclean, but when with someone who considers a food to be unclean, don't partake in that food.

April 30, 2009 19:21
"He knows where the edge is, enjoys dancing on the precipice jumping back. To dismiss him as merely loud and obnoxious is to do him (and people like him) a disservice."

But then, there's the kicker. People who enjoy dancing on the edge get known for that, rather than for their talent and expertise. It may be a disservice to think of DHH (and people like him) as merely loud and obnoxious, but then what other impression can we take away?

I don't want to give the impression that being PC is the end all, be all of human social interaction, but at least attempting to be thoughtful in communicating with other people usually goes a very long way towards understanding. Which idea would you be more likely to latch on to: the Rails guy who tells you that you're a complete dumbass if you don't use Rails for your e-commerce project because it's more awesome than anything else ever invented (including Cheetos and Mountain Dew), or the ASP.NET guy who listens to your ideas, engages in dialogue that pushes you to think about what you're really looking for, and then says that maybe you should look into Rails because it will satisfy a lot of your requirements?
April 30, 2009 19:53
In regards to DHH's quote, I think that finding someone's edge and then intentionally stepping over it pretty much makes you a jerk.

It's unclear to me what purpose it serves other than to aggravate people.
April 30, 2009 20:50

Nice rant. I'd answer in kind if I could pull it off.

Joking aside, Younger-Scott's behavior caused me a nasty series of problems because I had customers present while the Mighty Hanselman behaved as I described above. Luckily for me, they came down on my side, but I more than earned the right to lash out a bit. My employees' jobs were on the line, and I care about them.

Frankly, I remain surprised and impressed that Scott replied as he did. And, again, I consider it resolved.
April 30, 2009 22:49
There is too much for me to comment on in the main of this post, and since I don't have time, I am instead wanted to comment on this commend of yours, Scott:
I have made a concious decision in the last 10 years, with the help of my wife, to pay more attention to what comes out of my mouth.
I just love this because it reminds me so much of myself. I am grateful my wife has had the patience to deal with me for the last 9 years because I don't think anyone else would have. I am a better person for her influence and it seems you feel the same way about your wife. I hope you remind her of that often!
April 30, 2009 23:04
Wow, I wish I could edit that last post, my grammar and spelling errors make me want to cry....
April 30, 2009 23:22
cool picture, Hanselman, Fowler, and the Karate Kid in the same shot! ;)
May 01, 2009 0:50
I'm not sure what the point of swearing and bragging about how awesome your swearing is? What does using words which a good number of people find offensive have to do with cutting the BS? Cutting the BS has more to do with your integrity and sticking to your actions, having sound principles, than the way you talk.

To me, cutting the BS means having an ounce of respect for other people. Proudly sporting your "edge" shows a lack of respect for others. When did having some respect for your audience and your community equate to being false or a hypocrite? Just because someone holds their tongue doesn't make any mark on their values.

I respect DHH's opinions on technology, he's been a good contributor to the technical community and has some good ideas, but I think he's full of [fecal matter] when it comes to making social commentary.

See what I did there?
May 01, 2009 0:59
Once upon a time, the story goes, Bucky Fuller sucked back upwards of a fifth of scotch a day. He was satisfied that it didn't interfere with his phenomenal creativity or productivity. On the other hand he noticed that it got in the way of other people taking him seriously. He quit the heavy drinking. He knew what was important to him (and apparently wasn't alcoholic).

As a youngster (I'm 61, so that covers a lot of years) I worked in some rough places and developed a very salty vocabulary. It was expressive, but after I got back into the IT consultant orbit, it got in the way. I'm still working on it, but I've cleaned up both the words and to a large degree the vehemence behind much of it, and am satisfied that my individuality hasn't suffered very much.

As Steve said, politeness is a timeless value. Most of us were "raised right" - we should act like it.
May 01, 2009 1:18
It's all about context; some people swear like sailors and it doesn't feel out of place, contrived or gratuitous, in fact more like a personal patois yet when others do it you can tell they lack a sense of self and so use shock value as a way to fake it. Some just have a lot of passion but a limited vocabulary ;)

Cutting out the crap has nothing to do with swearing or making a reference to hard core porn, it's just speaking straight, demanding others backup their opinions and being willing to accept the same treatment.
May 01, 2009 4:18
This is a topic that I find very interesting to discuss. Everyone of us has different values and we use them in all our social interactions. A community is created around a common set of those values. I think the best measure of a community is how well we accept the differences. In fact differences are required, if the norm is never challenged then how do things improve.

On a final note, thanks Scott for all your contribution to the developer community
May 01, 2009 8:34
Good call, I recently started a blog to talk about I agree that permalinking an acerbic post can reflect negatively on someone... I certainly wouldn't want one post keeping me from a dream job!
May 01, 2009 18:08
Just want to quickly say that I enjoyed your post...and agree with most of what you say. Nicely (& honestly) communicated.
May 01, 2009 23:18
I have a fellow developer who recently died that would often discuss his desire for honesty and authenticity at work. And to a decent extent this revolved around his desire to drop the F-bomb at times. But also he didn't want to waste brain cycles on applying a social filter when there were more important things to worry about.

I would make a distinction between "honest" offensiveness and "contrived" offensiveness. "Honest" offensiveness is heat-of-the-moment - I might have made a dumb error or I may be really frustrated about something and I spew out some profanity. Or I am arguing about something and I step over a line. "Honest" offensiveness happens - may or may not require an apology - then no big deal. My friend longed for some slack for "honest" offensiveness.

"Contrived" offensiveness is all about shock value - adds nothing to the conversation - reminds me of 8th grade. Act like an 8th grader, don't be surprised if a) no one wants to associate with you and/or b) you get treated like an 8th grader.

Great post - lots of good comments as well.

Closing thought - just because you can, doesn't mean you should...
May 02, 2009 0:42
As a person who is notoriously thick-skinned (honestly, can't remember the last time I was truly offended) I am intensely interested in this affair and have been reading everything I can get my hands on.

All in all, it really comes down to the argument expressed by Martin Fowler: do you really want to exclude the thin-skinned people, the ones who would get offended?

It really is a logical check-mate, but there is a caveat: do thin-skinned people want to flee for shore every time the water gets murky? Add to that that for people who simply do not take offense like myself it is notoriously difficult to predict when people will.

So here's the deal, I am working on this - that is why I have such a keen interest in this affair - I think my efforts of the past few years have been paying off quite well. But what about you thin-skinners? Are you committed to overcoming your deficiencies as well? And seriously, even if you are to get accustomed to the edgier bits out there, how in the world can you expect me to be comfortable when half the people I target this comment at would take offense at the very suggestion that their views might be imperfect?
May 02, 2009 4:38
Expounded on thee idea above on my blog.
May 02, 2009 21:05
Sorry, I know the N-word now.
May 02, 2009 23:35
Hi Scott,
First of all sorry for late reply. It's really nice reading your blog and hanselminutes. Now, you may think that i am saying this because i belong from a particularly orthodox country , it's fair. But here is what i deeply belive, knowledge and talnet is something that we all appricate, the difference between us and savages is the ability to distinguise between good and bad. I belive everything has its right place for practice. I am sure , no porn start will walk in the downtown naked. Similarly, in conference if a presenter does able to give good presentation due to some reason,, should the audience will clap (which is hypocratic according to some people) or throw rotten eggs on him because its the right thing to do ? In the end, if being talented and open minded requires to be disrespecful to others, i belive its better not to be one. Then what will happend to the efforts of people of thousands of years just to make us decent and respectful ?

May 04, 2009 14:03
There seems to have been an awfully big chunk of time and a lot of effort mentally wanking over this presenter's choice of imagery. Maybe this is exactly what the presenter was aiming for. Of all the rights that the constitution offers us (real or implied), the right to not be offended is not among them.

I once interviewed at a place and during the interview they said they are not the most politically correct shop and if I were easily offended it might not be a god fit. This was for a programmer intern position. I just recently attended a code camp and one of the presenters used profanity a few times during the presentation. I am fortunate in that I do not offend easily.

Instead of spending all of this time hashing over something so utterly irrelevant maybe this incident should just show an example of what presentations we may not want to attend in the future.
May 05, 2009 10:47
Regardless of being thick- or thin-skinned, I feel it is often people who feel they have few peers who have less need for politeness - which makes it more sad when all of a sudden they are in need of peer support for some project or a reference; this will happen no matter what state in ones career. Given the choice, I can't see how abrasiveness trumps approachability in any circumstance?
May 05, 2009 10:49
Being in my 30's as well, I agree with what you said. The problem with everyone free to offend everyone, after a while we will all be little islands not talking to anyone anymore. I do not mind raining in myself for the sake of someone else in many situations. I'd rather err on being too cautios especially when doing presentations, you never know who will be in your audience.

When it comes to private areas like blogs, well sure, do what you want, if I do not like it, I just stop reading the blog, but presentations are a bit different in my opinion.
May 05, 2009 21:17
Ok fixed my google profile, so this should show more detail on my comments unlike the previous one.
May 06, 2009 1:29
Holy cow - Talk about opening up a can of worms. Try to travel to another country and do any of this. You would be arrested and probably left to rot in jail.

Makes me happy to be an American that we have these freedoms. My wife recently went to Dubai and she and my daughter (10) holding hands was enough for the police to talk to her about "public display of affection". Would you ever think twice of holding your childs hand?

But I would think you seriously have to take your audience into consideration. Would you make a porn reference to the school PTA? Probably not. To a bunch of geeks? Yep, seen it many times.

Nice post to make people think...
May 08, 2009 20:38
What I would tell DHH is, it's good to stand on principle, but pick the right principles to stand on.
May 12, 2009 9:13

I am a big believer in treating people with respect. That said, some people, because they are afraid to be candid, cloak their dishonesty behind a veneer of politeness. It's an excuse for them not to confront. I don't think you have to be rude, but some people carry it too far the other way.
May 13, 2009 14:04
I really don't think that "stripping away bulls**t" and "adding tits" are the same thing.

Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.