Morning workouts bring cracked dust trails and seldom used railroad tracks. The California Sun is nowhere near as hot as the one over the New Mexico desert where I roamed aged 12. Yet, it’s just hot enough to peel back layers of memories revealing the most pleasant sensations of my early rides to the college where I’d double-booked classes only to capture lab time with the mainframe. What’s missing now are the oil pits, wind-blown plumes of invisible petroleum stink, and the web of caliche roads which seem to hold the Llano Estacado to Earth. In boiling heat I plotted back country pumpjack routes ending near the southwest quadrant of the road circumscribing NMJC. Summer weekdays I made the trip on an old ten-speed carving frustrating ruts when the hardpan failed. I suppose I was motivated by the same obsession I see in my own children today: Machine time. Still, I see no similar adventure in their own lives–solo quests over treacherous lands–and it saddens me. And today, every small avoidance on my trail run triggers instincts to instruct them as to what to watch for, what to avoid, the geology, and the observation of the toil of others, but my children aren’t there. Their absence begs the question: What have we wrought? A question repeating in my mind, but the words are not my own. While science and society progresses, we haven’t made any significant strides in our own nature. We’re still viciously vying for wants; corruption has no obvious face, and it is everywhere; the workplace is just a facade behind which hides a nature no different from ranchborne butchery; and cooled offices and retina displays have only changed the face of our routines. Beneath the thin veneer of our professions exists the same grunting club armed primate waiting to bash in your head for a few corporate kudos. How to prepare them?
Category Archives: Changing the World
after gathering surface samples Officer Jolene Manipulates the transnoumenal plasma plotting our course to next star system–altering reality with the touch of a small, sensitive hand.
Recent US Supreme Court news has focused on DOMA; however, there’s another case which intrigues me more: Salinas v Texas. Here’s the holding:
When petitioner had not yet been placed in custody or received Miranda warnings, and voluntarily responded to some questions by police about a murder, the prosecution’s use of his silence in response to another question as evidence of his guilty at trial did not violate the Fifth Amendment because petitioner failed to expressly invoke his privilege not to incriminate himself in response to the officer’s question.
Specifically, police informally asked questions to a suspect; pre-Miranda; suspect answered most; when presented with a question that might incriminate him, he remained silent. His silent pause was used against him in court as evidence of his guilt.
Language–the means, mode, and act of communication, syntax and grammar, verbal or otherwise–is on stage here. Before this year, I’d never attempted a critical, circumspect investigation into language and its role in forming society and, more important, reality. In my pursuit of tying specific words to concepts as I understand them (something most important to me over the past two years), I’ve learned to appreciate the role language plays in all things human. I’ve found many discrepancies in my notions of definition and meaning by practicing pause when considering important values I hold. For example, I value integrity as a defining characteristic. I often shape my world-view around what I would do in a particular situation to maximize a positive outcome for myself and for all. But, what does integrity mean to another person? This is a problem. Since I’m not The Other, there’s no way for me to ever, ever know we absolutely agree on, well, anything at all.
In work, language and the act of communicating is perilous. We’re constantly misinterpreting. Text messages, chats, and emails amplify the problem. I’ve heard: “I messaged So-and-So over thirty minutes ago, why haven’t they responded? Did I make them angry somehow?” Silence can be scary, and it’s never clear what it means. This court case and outcome I find astounding because no reasonable way to interpret the silence of Salinas. In this case, a man’s life was at stake.
More troubling is that the existence of rights is tied to an act of language. Our Supreme Court confirmed Salinas should have exercised his right, and only then would his silence be inadmissible. With the conjuring of a right by his use of language it would have created the reality keeping him out of jail. Yet Salinas’ silence was instead used as a determining factor of his guilt. All this time I’ve acted as if rights are intrinsic. You have them, or you don’t. No magic spells required. I’ve obviously misunderstood Miranda as a safety net for the uninformed: The police must tell you your rights just to make sure you know them so they can’t coerce you to incriminate yourself. Instead, you do not have the right to remain silent without incriminating yourself until the police have informed you of your rights and you have used a form of language to exercise those rights. I believe this is a mistake and a marked indicator of our flawed society.
This issue indicates the power and provides clear evidence of the important role language plays in defining what and who we are. Every day I talk to dozens of people, and many of those conversations happen in a closed room, in a one-on-one setting as it’s part of my job. I listen, and I do whatever I can to help them, even if it is trivial. After countless hours of conversations with hundreds in this setting, I’ve become exceptionally aware, I believe, of the Otherness of the person in the room. I routinely and clearly see the barriers to communication: Distance, hesitation, fear, doubt, distrust, confusion, cultural issues, and just plain frustration in trying to convey an idea. You see the patterns enough, they become obvious. Today, it’s difficult to avoid acute self-awareness during these conversations. I’m constantly reminded there’s another person in the room with their own world-view, their own values, their own concerns, and it’s all wrapped in the period of time they’ve existed. Now, once at the front of my thoughts, the mechanics of identifying and addressing the concerns of the Other become automatic.
I think this takes a huge amount of practice, and I suspect most people never have such an opportunity. I think I’m probably lucky to be in this position; however, I can’t overstate how difficult it can be to always reach a positive outcome–and maintain that integrity I value. Language deficiencies leave room for misinterpretations that may prohibit outcomes perceived as my maintaining integrity, no matter what I do.
From Mozilla to Edmodo
For the past six years, I created an environment where amazing engineers and engineering leaders built Firefox for the desktop and Android, amazing products that deliver on Mozilla’s mission. I’m very proud of everything we’ve done, and I’m proud to have built and been part of a world changing team. We were, and still are, exceptionally motivated and unbelievably talented. Mozilla Firefox continues to write the future of the Web.
Mozilla’s next endeavor is Firefox OS, and as of January 15, we hit a major milestone, completing the foundation of what will become Firefox OS 1.0. This project has teeth, and it will be the next amazing product that enables Mozilla to continue pushing the Web forward and protecting user sovereignty. The project is off to a fantastic start, and I’m thrilled by the progress we’ve made in such short time.
Sometime around 2000, I read Jamie Zawinski’s resignation from Netscape and mozilla.org. I planned to reference JWZ’s post in my own today; however, I hadn’t re-read his note in over a decade. The thing I remembered most–before I looked back to find it–was his point in his second paragraph:
When we started this company, we were out to change the world. And we did that. Without us, the change probably would have happened anyway, maybe six months or a year later, and who-knows-what would have played out differently. But we were the ones who actually did it. When you see URLs on grocery bags, on billboards, on the sides of trucks, at the end of movie credits just after the studio logos — that was us, we did that. We put the Internet in the hands of normal people. We kick-started a new communications medium. We changed the world.
His statement above was a big part of the reason I joined Mozilla–plus I’d get to work with great people like John Lilly, Mike Schroepfer, Mitchell Baker, and Brendan Eich. I remember quoting JWZ’s words above to Mitchell in my own Mozilla Corporation interview back in 2006. To have an impact on the world like that is a once in a lifetime opportunity for an engineer. Now, I’m in his position of departing (the company, not the project), and my experience is positive and thrilling as I have been a part of changing the world and part of a world-changing team.
I’ve decided it’s time for me to embark on a different world-changing adventure by joining Edmodo as VP of Engineering–the same role I have here now at Mozilla. This new opportunity is exciting because it has the familiar feel of when I first joined the Mozilla project: Almost the same number of users, it’s rapidly growing just like Firefox, and they have a stellar mission that aligns with my values–something hard to find in a start-up on a clear path to success.
I’m proud of and thankful for all who have joined me on my journey at Mozilla and who have made it a world-changing success. I’m looking forward to continuing with another world-changing team. Edmodo’s mission is to connect all learners with the people and resources they need to reach their full potential. Education is important to me as it’s a big part of my own young family, and knowing that I can improve the world’s educational experience, in addition to my own children’s, is a huge motivator.
I can’t wait to get started.