People really hate it when web servers decide what to do based on User-Agent:
"UA strings need to die a horrible horrible death."
"The UA string is flawed by itself. it shouldn't even be used anymore. The fact that browser manufacturers have to include all sorts of stuff is proof that this system doesn't work."
"Well written sites use feature detection, not user-agent detection."
"We'd all be better off if they just stopped sending the UA string altogether"
Let's say I want to show you a picture of a kitten:
How big is that?  It depends how we encode it:
|Unoptimized JPEG||290.0 kB|
|Optimized JPEG||38.6 kB|
|Optimized WebP||20.2 kB|
To emit html that references either a JPEG or a WebP depending on the browser, you need some way that the server can tell whether the browser supports WebP. Because this feature is so valuable, there is a standard way of indicating support for it: include image/webp in the Accept header. Unfortunately this doesn't quite work in practice. For example, Chrome v36 on iOS broke support for WebP images outside of data:// urls but was still sending Accept: image/webp. Similarly, Opera added image/webp to their Accept header before they supported WebP lossless. And no one indicates in their Accept whether they support animated WebP.
This leaves us having to look at the User-Agent header to figure out what the browser is, and then look up what features that browser supports. The header is ugly, I hate having to do this, but if we want to make pages fast we need to use the UA.
(The full gory details: kernel/http/user_agent_matcher.cc.)
 I uploaded this picture to my server as a poorly optimized jpeg, but I'm running PageSpeed. You should be seeing WebP if your browser supports it, or an optimized JPEG if it doesn't.
 Which would be a bit of an awkward function.
 This only is a problem because of the external script reference. If there were nothing to block the regular parser then both versions would be just as good. (1, 2) Most pages do reference external scripts, however, so in practice the preload scanner helps a lot and you don't want to disable it.
There are lots of ways people treat men and women differently. Not just pronouns: body language, formality, assumptions. As a woman I want people to group me with women in all of these ways, but pronouns are really the only one most people seem to be willing to put in the effort for. Which means that if we stop using gendered pronouns I'll lose one of the few situations where people respect my gender at all.
This makes sense. If we were to keep our current social environment and just drop gendered pronouns it would be an awkward tradeoff. Some people would be very happy that they could mostly sidestep the question of gender; others would feel like they were losing the only way they currently get any acknowledgement of their gender, any counterbalance to the many subtle ways people continuously misgender them. I think it would be an improvement on balance, but I'm not sure.
It seems like the real problem here, however, is using apparent gender in deciding how to treat people. Thinking through examples, I haven't found any that are beneficial or even benign. Keeping explicit recognition of gender via pronouns seems like the wrong way to handle this: fight excessive gendering with more gendering? Gender-neutral pronouns aren't enough on their own, but for many of us they're one of the only ways we intentionally treat men and women differently. It seems like it would be harder to get rid of all the small ways we indicate to others how we have categorized them while still keeping around these big explicit ones. more...
In the comments on yesterdays post a few people brought up ideas like, paraphrasing:
When a cisgender person says they don't care what pronouns people use for them they trivialize the experiences of people living with the dysphoria that comes from constant misgendering. To a cis person this isn't real, it isn't raw, it doesn't matter. For a cis person to express a pronoun "preference" ignores that for lots of people it's not a preference, it's a core part of their identity.This is a major reason why we should get gender out of language. Right now, every time you use a pronoun there's the potential to hurt someone; we're hanging core parts of people's identities out for constant affirmation or disaffirmation. As long as pronouns have gender implications this is going to be a problem. We should push English toward having a single pronoun for everyone: no one will feel dysphoric when hearing it used for them because it will have no gender implications a all.
Some ways cis people can use their privilege to help get gender out of language:
Change your facebook pronouns to "they", which you can do without changing your gender:
Let people know that it's fine to use "they" with you.
Push the envelope on usage of "they" toward specific known gendered referents.
As part of the process of switching to ungendered pronouns at some point people need to start being ok with using "they" with named referents. I'm really optimistic about how "they" is catching on among genderqueer people, but I'd like to help it along. So: if you want to use singular they to refer to me, feel free! I'm still happy to be refered to with standard male pronouns, but if you'd like to use "they", that's fine too.
These are currently confusing to most people, so you probably want to think about context and not use them when it's not worth it. Still, the more we hear "they" the better it will sound. For example, two years ago uses of "they" like "whenever I meet a cute boy contra dancing I friend them on facebook" sounded wrong to me, but now those sound fine. more...
Talking about effective altruism with coworkers can be really awkward. There's potential to come off as "I'm more moral than you", potential for "I think the charities you do support are useless", for "I'm so rich I can afford to give away lots of money", "I'm trying to convert you", "I think you're a bad person because you don't do this", and for just seeming weird. Most of the year I just don't bring it up, but as we get into giving season I feel like I ought to try.
I think most of the social difficulty around effective altruism comes from the demandingness aspect, the idea that to be a good person you should be devoting a substantial effort to making the world better. One way around this is to mostly focus on the effectiveness angle, saying "here's an awesome charity that can do huge amounts of good with your donation". The best charities are so much better than the rest that pushing effectiveness seems well worth it, and any sort of discussion of giving helps normalize it and lead people to give more. So here are three ideas for promoting effective giving among your coworkers: more...
Apps that make your screen dimmer and redder at night are pretty useful. Blue light wakes you up, so you want to minimize it when you're going to sleep. Unfortunately, these apps default to following the sun while the people using them generally wake up after sunrise and go to bed long after sunset. At work I look around at 4:30pm and I see screens going red, but I doubt my coworkers want to start getting sleepy already. Our schedules are offset from the sun, and our technology should be too: things should shift red a couple hours before bed, and blue when it's time to wake up. more...
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