Brendan Eich, Firefox on the run: Best of the Web

To say the resignation of former Mozilla chief executive Brendan Eich has caused a firestorm is certainly an understatement.

Late last week, Eich resigned as chief executive of Mozilla, a post he had only been appointed to on March 24, after it became publicly known he had donated $US1000 to a political campaign opposing same-sex marriage back in 2008.

Since then, debate about the resignation has raged, white hot, across the internet.

Some argue the social media and campaign against Eich prior to his resignation represented a violation of his rights to free speech.

Others, including some gay rights advocates, argued the campaign against him went too far, or was indicative of a nasty culture of cyberbullying online.

Others still say Eich did the right thing by resigning.

Of those arguing for free speech, one of the more interesting was by Jon Lovett in The Atlantic. Lovett begins with the tale of a village that acted suspiciously like the US as it discovered the internet:

There once was a remote village deep in the rainforest that had no contact with the outside world. And in this small village there were only three village elders who had the ability to speak. So they were in charge. And they’d have arguments. One would say, “I support a woman’s right to choose.” Another would say, “I oppose a woman’s right to choose.” And then the third would say, “A real debate here on a woman’s right to choose. When we come back, Justin Bieber arrested!”

Then one day you found this rock and you realized that you could use the rock to write on a leaf. And so you developed a written language and taught it to everyone. And at the big village meetings, when the three elders at the front would have their arguments, villagers could participate… Soon there were really only two kinds of messages people would write—either vicious personal attacks, or self-righteous calls for apology—until eventually the villagers, angry and exhausted and sick of the noise and rancor just started pelting each other with the rocks until all the rocks were broken and all the leaves were shredded and finally in the silence.

In the long essay that follows, Lovett argues that there are dangers to attempting to shut views you disagree with out of the public debate:

Yes, it’s in some ways a natural response to being more connected to one another; we’re just in each other’s faces. But it’s also dangerous. It narrows the visible spectrum of ideas. It encourages people to be safe and cautious and circumspect when we don’t want people to be safe. We don’t want people to be afraid of saying something interesting on the off chance it’s taken the wrong way.

The other side of the Eich debate

The opposite point of view, says the attacks on Eich were entirely legitimate due to his allegedly homophobic views, was put forward by a number of writers on Slate.

In one such column, J. Bryan Lowder argues the basic rights of LGBTQ citizens is fundamentally different to other debates in a pluralistic society in that it’s a debate about people rather than politics:

There has been a lot of talk during all this of pluralism, of the virtue of coexisting with people who think or believe differently than we do. But doesn’t that ideal require that all the parties involved think of each other as, well, people? Herein lies the problem of applying a naïve call for pluralism to gay or trans issues as opposed to, say, health care models: The latter involves competing policies about which we can debate the merits; the former involves debating the merits of actual human beings.

It’s worth reminding ourselves occasionally that the way we discuss LGBTQ citizens in this country is supremely weird and, really, traumatizing in its dispassion. I do not mean that people lack passion with regard to individual issues; I’m referring to a deeper orientation, the way in which allies and antagonists alike accept, without question, the notion that LGBTQ people and their lives are a legitimate topic of debate to begin with. Untold conferences, think pieces, office conversations, church meetings, and, in some ways, magazine sections like Outward are constructed on the foundational principle that those people are fodder for calm consideration. We can agree to disagree about them. We can wish they would behave this way or that.

In another column, Will Oremus argues the underlying issue is whether some people (namely GLBTQ people) should have fewer rights than others, and says – in essence – this is the position Eich was putting forward with his donation:

But this is different. Opposing gay marriage in America today is not akin to opposing tax hikes or even the war in Afghanistan. It’s more akin to opposing interracial marriage: It bespeaks a conviction that some people do not deserve the same basic rights as others. An organization like Mozilla might tolerate that in an underling, and it might even tolerate it in a CTO. But in a CEO—the ultimate decision-maker and public face of an organization—it sends an awful message. That’s doubly so for an organization devoted to openness and freedom on the Web—not to mention one with numerous gay employees.

According to Oremus, as a result of this, Eich was entirely right to stand down:

Think for a second: If you knew your boss rated you undeserving of the same rights as everyone else based solely on your sexual orientation, would you feel good about going to work for him every day? Would you be reassured when he insisted he wouldn’t treat you any differently in the workplace just because he felt the Constitution ought to be amended to discriminate against people like you?

Whatever side of this debate you take, it’s clear the discussion this week has been about far more than merely the resignation of the boss of a tech company.

The man who wants to make Las Vegas America’s next tech capital

On to a lighter topic, and as Derek Thompson from The Atlantic explains, Las Vegas is perhaps the place in America most unlikely to become the next Silicon Valley-style tech metropolis:

Is there a city that doesn’t want to be (or suspect that it already is) “the next Silicon Valley?” New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle, Portland, Denver: They’ve all professed their silicon dreams… The idea that Sin City also fancies itself the next great tech hub might have struck someone from a few decades ago as a lamentable delusion conjured in an alcohol-induced stupor.

However, what was once an impossible dream is now the mission of one well-known entrepreneur: 

Today, it’s not so laughable. The concept of “Silicon Vegas” is still mostly aspirational—the city’s leisure and hospitality industry is twice the size of its core white collar workforce in information and business services (the exact opposite is true of San Francisco)—but it’s closer to a reality thanks to [Tony] Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, who’s embarked on an ambitious $300 million project to rebuild downtown Vegas as a haven for techies.

As Thompson argues, Hsieh’s vision has a greater chance of success than you might expect:

Hsieh’s quest might seem quixotic, but the idea of a single person or company catalyzing a city’s economic development is historically apt. Great cities take time to become great, but one person or organization can be an inflection point. Vegas has Zappos. Seattle has Gates and Bezos. Boston has Harvard and MIT. Palo Alto has Stanford and Xerox PARC. Software-based entrepreneurship can technically be done anywhere, and yet it tends to cluster in areas like the Flatiron District and Palo Alto, because people who consider themselves talented apparently want to be where they think other talented people are.

It’s certainly an interesting thought – can a well-resourced tech guru turn a town into a tech metropolis? It will be interesting to see how Hsieh goes in his quest!

Who still relies on Windows XP?

This week, Microsoft ended support for its venerable Windows XP operating system. At the Washington Post, Andrea Peterson takes a look at some of the groups still needing to make the upgrade:

After 12 long years, today is D-Day for Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system. Starting today, free support and updates for the software will stop. But who is still using an operating system released over a decade ago?

Turns out, a lot of people. While estimates vary, XP consistently ranks as the second most popular operating system worldwide. Analytics firm StatCounter says that nearly 17 percent of desktop, tablet, and console users are on XP.

One of the more alarming sets of XP hold-outs has been many of the world’s ATMS:

You know those magic cash boxes found on street corners around the world? Some 95 percent of them were running Windows XP earlier this year, and the ATM Industry Association only expected 38 percent of those to upgrade by today. And hackers and security researchers keep finding new ways to exploit the system.

It seems the rest of us are banking on our financial institutions making the upgrade sooner rather than later.

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