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How Tech Swagger Triggered the Era of Distrust in Government

Last month, I heard Jill Lepore give a talk about These Truths, her single-volume history of America from the 15th century through the 2016 presidential election. She got her biggest laugh when she made fun of WIRED for predicting in 2000 that the internet would both lead to the end of political division and be a place where government interference would be senseless.

There are many famous WIRED moments that also fit this description, including Jon Katz’s assertion in 1997 that Netizens had nothing but contempt for government, John Perry Barlow’s 1996 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, or the Joshua Quittner profile of EFF in 1994 depicting Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder Mitchell Kapor and the fabled Esther Dyson as people who “got it.” Their goal was to have the net be a wiring together of humanity that would restructure civilization. The EFF would “find a way of preserving the ideology of the ’60s,” Kapor told WIRED.

Much of that early libertarian net culture—white, rich, smart, and full of “let’s just geek around it” swagger when it came to government—has become mainstream in Western democracies in 2018. Paradoxically, that ideology came from a time when, in fact, government was doing a lot for people.

Those baby boomers being profiled by WIRED had known only a United States full of generous government support for education, a time of continuous upward mobility, and an America that could carry out enormous and inspiring public infrastructure projects—including requiring that phone companies permit competing internet service providers to use their lines. The voices in WIRED were those of a very secure bunch of people. And they were bored by it all; they saw government as a set of clueless, bland bureaucracies. Who needed that?

As it turns out, we all did. Today, globally interconnected changes in climate and widespread disdain for democratic institutions are the key titanic, messy trends that are likely to begin producing shocking results 25 years from now. At that point, with the globe dealing with punishing heat and alarming levels of water, it won’t be internet technology that will be doing the disrupting. There are signs that the internet will be fading from view as a distinctive “place” prompting political and social changes. Indeed, if we keep to our current course, communications capacity and what humans do online may be controlled by a few highly profitable actors who will be uninterested in the unpredictable. Given this context, there is a substantial risk that 25 years from now the breathlessly libertarian views trumpeted by WIRED’s early voices will have reached their unpleasant apotheosis.

I hope I am wrong.

Let’s start with the weather. Techies are good at positive feedback loops, and these days we’re seeing one operating at global scale. As the dynamics of air patterns change around the world in response to overall warming, melting ice in the Arctic is having an effect on distant lands. Weather is getting stuck in place, making both extreme dryness and extreme downpours routine. It’s a giant, resonating system of ever-increasing cataclysmic change.

We humans are a resilient, cheerful group, so presumably we’ll adapt. But it is probably already too late to carry out the large-scale planning that would have been necessary to move people comfortably and gradually away from the coasts and change the economics of places that are plunging into unending drought. Millions or billions of our fellow less-well-off beings will be forced into climate refugee status.

What’s particularly troubling is that even relatively rich countries may be losing the capacity to plan ahead for all of their citizens. And that’s the second messy force that will affect the next 25 years: increasing cynicism about the role of democratic government in people’s lives, particularly in Western Europe and the US.

Unless something changes, government at all levels will come to be viewed as a thin, under-resourced platform whose purpose is to help already-thriving people make even more money. The familiar drumbeat that will get us there will include fewer people voting, increasing talk about shrinking government, declining trust in most levels of government, and outright, unabashed disdain for “bureaucrats.” And so authoritarianism may increasingly fill the void, with countries like Hungary, Poland, and Brazil added in the years to come to a list that now includes places like Cuba, Russia, and China.

Into this swirl of depressing global trends steps WIRED, the internet, and those ’60s-culture voices. It turns out the pixie dust of digital did not remove the crushing economic and social truth that unrestrained moneymaking leads to chaos and despair. But the larger public caught the WIRED mystique and amplified the message of complete freedom from old-fashioned governmental constraints—not knowing that the message had implicitly assumed the ongoing presence of a functioning public sector. (For starters, absent government involvement and regulation—that dreaded word—the early net-heads would not have been able to use an internet protocol that elegantly allowed computers to speak to each other across heterogeneous networks.)

Take these trends to their extremes decades from now and you could have a hollowed-out public sector, growing affection for essentially private strongmen who might be able to protect your socioeconomic tribe from searing heat and punishing storm surge, and an online world that has, like electricity, faded into the background as a social change agent. Not only will all generations be used to “digital” (at varying levels depending on their wealth and location), but if we keep following the Barlow rhetorical path, life online may not be all that that interesting. Imagine a wholly oligopolistic, vertically integrated online ecosystem focused on entertainment and advertising—access to which is subject to neither competition nor oversight—and try to feel creative.

After the two world wars and the Great Depression, Americans and the citizens of every other developed country absolutely understood that it simply is not true that the incentives of unrestrained private gain are always aligned with or lead to public good. You would have been laughed off the stage in the early ’50s—under a Republican president, by the way—if you’d said anything like that.

Nothing happens quickly, and we may still see a return to a more balanced view of the role of government, particularly as rising waters and changing weather dynamics disastrously change human lives. But for now, and for the foreseeable future, we are increasingly on our own.


More Great WIRED Stories

The 7 Best Ways to Stop Micromanaging

1. Take a second look at recruiting, hiring and training.

Micromanaging often has a root in bringing someone into the company who wasn’t the best fit in terms of culture or skills. That can cause the worker to clash with you or have trouble following protocols or policies, which in turn might make you feel like you have to watch the employee like a hawk. Review how you describe positions and what you require of your recruiters to see if you can’t find more ideal candidates. Once you’ve hired, make sure that workers have access to resources they need to learn and complete the tasks you expect.

2. Keep your schedule full.

The idea here isn’t to work yourself into the ground. Rather, it’s to keep yourself just busy enough that you’re less tempted to constantly watch over everyone. Try to schedule activities with others for accountability and network expansion, and get yourself out of the office when it’s practical.

3. Take a 360 picture of your life and do more self-care.

While some individuals naturally are a little more prone to micromanaging because of their personalities, you might also do it if you feel like there are other areas of your life that you can’t control. In this case, micromanaging employees can be a way of trying to find balance and cope with personal stress. Consider making some lifestyle changes that can put you back in the driver’s seat outside of the office, and talk with people you trust about what you find challenging.

4. Improve your own skills and creativity.

Micromanaging can be a way to live vicariously–if you don’t feel like you have specific competencies or capabilities, you might want to control the people who do so you can feel connected to those positive traits and take credit for their outcomes. Take classes or find other opportunities to affirm your own talents. Always ask yourself whether your requirements satisfy you or whether they satisfy the interests of the business.

5. Improve your communication.

Good communication between you and your employees reassures you that the workers are progressing as you wanted, which alleviates the worry that can prompt you to micromanage. It also builds rapport and trust, which can make you more confident that the workers will follow your directions even when you’re not looking over their shoulders. Schedule regular check-ins and establish an open-door policy so your team knows they can come to you. Make sure your operational routines and protocols discourage siloing and allow time for interaction. Lastly, outline clear goals and constraints for each project so there isn’t any confusion as you delegate.

6. Get more data.

Just like a lack of control in personal areas of your life can make you tighten your grip on workers, a lack of data can make you scared that you’re missing something or will lose out. Instead of keeping tabs on how workers spend every minute, stay focused on the bigger picture. Get other facts and figures that can reassure you that you’re on target, or that can give you better insights about what your employees can and can’t control. Use that data to evaluate team and company goals and adjust processes or resources on a regular basis.

7. Let workers call you out.

Address the elephant in the room and tell your team outright that you’re trying to be better and eliminate the micromanaging habit. Ask them to let you know when they need some breathing space so you can learn about their needs and what typically triggers you to be most watchful. Most employees will be impressed at your willingness to address the fault and just need some reassurance that they won’t be punished for pointing out what you’re doing.

This Survey of 1,300 Harvard Business School Alumni Reveals the 5 Skills You Need to Succeed as an Entrepreneur

Do you admire leaders like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who have turned their ideas into world-leading public companies? I certainly do. But it is one thing to admire such leaders and another thing to have the skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur.

Which raises an important question: What skills do successful founders have that other business leaders lack? Thanks to a survey of 1,300 Harvard Business School alumni, here are the five key skills — out of 11 examined by the researchers — at which entrepreneurial leaders distinguish themselves compared to non-founders.

1. Identification of Opportunities

Founders excel in skills and behaviors associated with the ability to identify and seek out high-potential business opportunities, according to the research. This should come as no surprise. But what makes for a great business opportunity? 

My interviews with hundreds of entrepreneurs reveal four tests:

  • Does the product relieve deeply-felt customer pain that other companies are ignoring?
  • Does the founder have a passion for doing a market-beating job of solving that problem?
  • Does the startup’s founding team have the critical skills to build that solution?
  • Is the market opportunity large enough — e.g., at least $1 billion? 

2. Vision and Influence

Founders have strong abilities to influence all internal and external stakeholders that must work together to turn a strategy into action and results.

Harvard researchers found that entrepreneurial leaders have more confidence of their abilities to provide vision and influence than the average leader — and that leaders working within established firms actually rated themselves much lower.

As I wrote in my 2012 book, Hungry Start-up Strategy, a successful entrepreneur is able to attract and motivate talent by creating what I called emotional currency — rather than paying people more money than Google does, they offer a powerful mission which gives work at the startup much more meaning.

3. Comfort with Uncertainty

Entrepreneurial leaders are better able to “move a business agenda forward in the face of uncertain and ambiguous circumstances,” according to the researchers.

You’ll know whether you share this skill if you are willing to start a company even though you have no money, no product, and no customers — but you do have a clear idea of what problem you are trying to solve and what your solution will look like.

Starting there, successful entrepreneurs are far more comfortable living with the uncertainty needed to go from there to building a large company. 

4. Building Networks

One reason for founders’ comfort with uncertainty is that they are good at assembling the resources the startup needs because they can create professional and business networks that will help them realize their vision.

Indeed, many of the CEOs I’ve interviewed have told me that they often find themselves not knowing how to solve problems — but they are able to get advice from CEOs who have been there before.

5. Finance and Financial Management

Being able to raise capital and control cash flow are essential to a successful startup. The founders HBS surveyed were “much more confident in their skills at managing cash flow, raising capital, and board governance — than were non-founder alumni.”

My interviews this year with CEOs for my forthcoming book on scaling startups highlights that successful entrepreneurs are great at persuading investors to write them checks.

The most successful sales pitches for money emphasize the size of the market the company is targeting, the value that the company’s product provides for customers, and the rapid rate at which the company is winning new customers and retaining old ones who spend more on the company’s products.

Not surprisingly, there is one area where founders are not as good as non-founders — preference for established structure.

Entrepreneurial leaders have a lower preference for operating in more established and structured business environments and would rather “adapt to an uncertain and rapidly changing business context and strategy,” according to the HBS researchers.

If you are great in these five skill areas, you may just have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

7 Strategies to Maximize Your Productivity While Traveling

Whether you hate the idea of traveling or you actually look forward to it, it’s hard to deny that travel can sabotage your productivity–at least temporarily. It takes hours of planning and coordination to prepare for some trips, and hours to navigate airports, not to mention the actual time you spend traveling.

It can make a full day of responsibilities feel like a waste, and put you behind on achieving your goals. Fortunately, there are some helpful strategies that can make you more productive–no matter how you’re traveling.

Try using these tactics to get more done when you’re setting course on a major trip:

1. Get used to a different sleep cycle.

One of the biggest sources of productivity disturbance while traveling is the disruption in your sleep cycle. Depending on where you travel to, you could be dealing with timezone changes and jet lag, and you may not be able to get a comfortable eight hours of sleep when you’re used to getting it.

Instead, you can try a biphasic cycle or an everyman cycle, which rely on split patterns to break up your time sleeping; that way, travel may not have as big of an impact on you. The caveat here is that it takes time to get used to a new sleep cycle, so it’s best for frequent travelers only.

2. Take a private jet.

One of the biggest sources of time delay while traveling is navigating the airport; going through customs, waiting to board the plane, dealing with delays, etc., can add several unnecessary hours to your trip.

Taking a private jet allows you to circumvent most of these problems–and it’s cheaper than you think. If a few hundred dollars can save you literally hours of time, and afford you a better workspace when you’re flying, it’s likely worth the extra money.

3. Look for coworking spaces when you arrive.

Coworking spaces are popping up everywhere, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one at your destination. Instead of going straight to a hotel or meeting, check into one of these productivity hubs; you’ll be able to get coffee, work in a peaceful environment, and if you’re up for it, socialize with other people who may be in similar situations. It’s a great way to both decompress and get more work done, so take advantage of it.

4. Rely on audio.

While you’re driving, navigating the airport, or dealing with a lack of lighting or Wi-Fi, you won’t be able to work on your most important heads-down tasks–but that doesn’t mean you can’t be productive.

Try focusing on audio-specific tasks when you can, listening to recordings of old meetings to prepare for the future, catching up on your favorite industry podcasts, and listening to audiobooks that can improve your skills or expand your professional horizons. There’s no shortage of audio content to plunder, so make good use of it.

5. Prepare travel-specific tasks.

While traveling, you won’t be able to do tasks that require multiple monitors, or meet with your teammates in person. You’ll have limited space, and in some cases, limited Wi-Fi connectivity.

Prepare tasks that you can work on under these conditions, so you don’t run out of things to do. As long as you have a few days’ heads-up, you can handle your least travel-friendly tasks in advance, and set yourself up to work offline for the next several hours.

6. Say “no” and delegate.

New things are going to come to your attention before and during your travel; for example, you might get a client email requesting a change to a piece of work you submitted. If this is the type of work that can’t be done efficiently when traveling, don’t bend over backwards trying to do it; instead, tell them you’re traveling, and not able to do it right now.

If it’s an emergency, or if you won’t be able to get to it for a while, consider delegating it to someone who can handle it.

7. Rest (if you can).

To some people, sleeping may seem like the opposite of productivity. But in reality, sleeping is one of the best things you can do for your mental energy and cognitive capacity. It can even reduce your susceptibility to illness and improve your overall physical health.

Accordingly, if it’s possible for you to take a nap during a long flight or car ride, take advantage of the opportunity. Use a face mask, a neck pillow, or some comforting white noise from your headphones–whatever you need to get some extra shuteye when you’re between destinations. You’ll thank yourself later.

Finding Your Own Style

Not everyone is going to travel the same way. For example, some people may not be able to read while in a vehicle, and some may have trouble sleeping on airplanes. The goal isn’t to fall in line with a series of productive habits, but rather to craft your own habits to maximize your personal productivity. Learn which strategies and actions suit you best, and customize your own set of approaches.

These Parents Are Angry That American Airlines Wouldn't Let Their 5-Year-Old Boy with Autism Board a Flight

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

The disappointment was crushing. Especially after the preparation. 

Adam and Heather Halkuff have five children, two of whom have autism. 

They wanted to take the whole family on a trip to Kansas City. So the Texas family did all they could to make it happen.

As NBC 5 reports, they called American Airlines in advance. The airline has a program that helps kids, including those with autism, become familiar with all the trials and quirks of flying. 

Five-year-old Milo and two-year-old Ollie took part, on September 24, more than a week before their flight. 

Yet on the day of the flight, Milo became distressed — many call it a meltdown — during the boarding process at Dallas/Fort Worth airport.

A meltdown might involve screaming, crying and other expressions of feeling overwhelmed.

The Halkuffs say other passengers were kind, but an American Airlines gate agent was less so.

“Right away she goes, ‘He can’t get on the flight … he’s going to bother the other passengers and then he’ll still be upset during the flight and we’ll have to turn around and escort you off the plane,” Heather Halkuff told NBC.

Some might observe that they’ve seen all sorts of kids get on planes and express upset.

Sometimes, they calm down quickly. Surely everyone has at least once been on a flight when a child didn’t quieten at all. 

At times, ground crew and Flight Attendants can be sympathetic. At other times, not so much.

The Halkuffs depiction of this particular gate agent suggests that she was of the latter variety.

Worse, Heather Halkuff says that the whole family weren’t allowed to board. Even though Adam Halkuff offered to take Milo home, so that at least Heather and the other children could still take the trip.

I contacted American for its view and a spokesperson told me:  

We are concerned to hear about this situation. Our team has reached out to the Halkuff family to gather more information about what transpired at Dallas/Fort Worth. The American Airlines team is committed to providing a safe and pleasant travel experience for all of our customers.

Clearly, the fact that American provides a service to help children — including those with autism — get used to flying means that the airline isn’t insensitive to the potential issues.

Moreover, we have no idea of the level of distress Milo might have undergone.

Yet again, though, we’re in a customer service situation when individuals are involved and initial reactions matter.

If the Halkuffs’ story is accurate, then some might conjecture the gate agent reacted too quickly. 

There could, perhaps, have been an alternative solution. Could anyone really know if Milo might have calmed down, once on the plane?

Not allowing any of the family to fly, however, seems to be the sort of draconian decision still too often taken by airline staff. 

I recently wrote about a dad who says he called American to explain that his three-year-old had a burst appendix and please could the airline rebook their trip.

American, he says, insisted on still charging $200 change fees for both of them. Before, says dad, the decision gained some Twitter traction.

Then the airline made a “one time exception.”

When it comes to boarding passengers, airline employees are graded severely on so-called D0.

This is the measure of whether a plane departs at the very minute and second it’s supposed to.

It could be that thoughts of this may have played upon this particular gate agent’s mind.

Yet as long as customers still see airlines as being in the customer service business — perhaps erroneously — such stories are likely to reach the media and become examples of airline insensitivity.

Airlines employ enormous numbers of people and are therefore at the mercy of each of their employees’ behavior.

The Halkuffs hope that what happened doesn’t cause Milo’s older brothers to resent him.

Perhaps there’s some way that American might provide another attempt for Milo to fly with his family.

Indeed, American told me:

A few members of the American team have been in touch with the family, and yes, we are hopeful they will reschedule and try once again.

Walmart partners with MGM to boost video-on-demand service Vudu

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Walmart Inc (WMT.N) said on Monday it would partner with U.S. movie studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer to create content for its video-on-demand service, Vudu, which the retailer bought eight years ago.

FILE PHOTO: Walmart signage is displayed outside a company’s store in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

Walmart has been looking to prop up Vudu’s monthly viewership that remains well below that of competitors like Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) and Hulu LLC, which is controlled by Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) and Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (FOXA.O).

Media outlets had reported the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company was looking to launch a subscription streaming video service to rival that of Netflix and make a foray into producing TV shows to attract customers.

Walmart is not planning such a move, company sources have told Reuters. The retailer continues, however, to look for options to boost its video-on-demand business and offer programs that target customers who live outside of big cities.

Walmart and MGM will make the announcement at the NewFronts conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday. It will include the name of the first production under the partnership, which Walmart will license from MGM.

“Under this partnership, MGM will create exclusive content based on their extensive library of iconic IP (intellectual property), and that content will premiere exclusively on the Vudu platform,” Walmart spokesman Justin Rushing told Reuters.

The focus will be on family-friendly content that Walmart customers prefer, Rushing said.

The financial deals of the deal were not disclosed.

Licensing content is a cost-effective strategy at a time when producing original content has become a costly venture. As of July, Netflix said it was spending $8 billion a year on original and acquired content. Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) programming budget for Prime Video was more than $4 billion, while U.S. broadcaster HBO, owned by AT&T Inc (T.N), said it would spend $2.7 billion this year.

Walmart acquired Vudu in 2010 to safeguard against declining in-store sales of DVDs. Walmart bet that customers would continue to buy and rent movies and move their titles to a digital library, which Vudu would create and maintain for viewers.

But the video site has not posed a significant challenge to rivals that dominate the segment even though it is pre-loaded or can be downloaded to millions of smart televisions and video-game consoles.

Vudu offers 150,000 titles to buy or rent, while its free, ad-supported streaming service, called Movies On Us, includes 5,000 movies and TV shows.

There are currently more than 200 video services that bypass cable providers and stream content directly to a TV, laptop, phone or game console. That is up from 68 five years ago, according to market researcher Parks Associates.

Reporting by Nandita Bose in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney

Microsoft Suspends Windows 10 Update Rollout After Users Report Deleted Files

Microsoft delivered its October Windows 10 update this week, but it didn’t exactly go as planned.

Microsoft had to pause its software update after some users reported that their files were inadvertently being deleted. Reports of the issue have been adding up since the Windows 10 update was released on October 2.

“We have paused the roll-out of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update (version 1809) for all users as we investigate isolated reports of users missing some files after updating,” Microsoft added to its page for the update. Microsoft added that it will give an additional update to customers once the Windows 10 update is made available again.

The issue was sent to Microsoft’s Feedback Hub for Windows Insider beta testers, but because it seems to affect only a few users, the issue wasn’t flagged, Engadget reported.

Anyone who has downloaded the October 2018 Windows 10 update, but has not yet installed it, is encouraged to wait before installation. It’s unclear when the update will be made available again.

The Cars of the Paris Auto Show Reveal a Quirky, Urban, Electric Future

The Renault Ez-Ultimo brings the high-end glitz to the show this year. Just because cities of the future may prioritize ride sharing over private cars doesn’t mean you should have to slum it on the way to opening night at the Opéra national de Paris.

This rounded bronze box is about as far from a production car as a concept can be (could those wheels even turn? where’s the ground clearance for cobbled streets?) but Renault says it shows a vision of an autonomous future, where passengers demand more from vehicles. In particular, the interior “reflects French elegance” with wood, leather, and marble.

Citroën went the opposite direction, unveiling a very real, very modest EV. The DS3 Crossback E-Tense is a fashionable crossover SUV, and an update on Citroen’s tres popular DS3 supermini car. The electric version comes with a 50-kWh battery—about half that of a high-end Tesla—a range of 186 miles on the generous European test cycle, and a 0-60 time of 8.7 seconds. None of those specs are going to blow buyers away, but at the right (to be revealed) price, the quirky car, with sharp angles and odd window cutouts, could rival the Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe, as a city runabout.

Europe has taken styling cues from the US for the Peugeot E-Legend concept, albeit with a little added flair. There are plenty of muscle car hints in the styling, with a side profile reminiscent of the modern Dodge Challenger, and a Mustang-like front squint. Of course it’s a concept, so it’s electric and autonomous, and supposed to show that those things don’t have to be boring or bland.

The retro theme continues inside with velvet upholstery and fake wood screensavers for the displays when they aren’t in use. It’ll apparently have a 100-kWh battery pack and all-wheel drive, but it’s so concept-y that wise money should be on all that potentially changing, if and when the E-Legend makes it to production.

It wouldn’t be a European auto show without a city car, and Smart is the brand synonymous with cars so small they can be parked end-on to a curb. The Smart Forease moves that theme into an electric age. The rather optimistic concept banks on the future always being sunny, given that it doesn’t have a roof. Not even an optional one. (Have these people been to Europe?)

Smart has already stopped the sales of all internal combustion engined cars in the US, and if this car makes it across the Atlantic (and to reality) it could find a place in some Californian garages. The Golden State has good EV electric rebates, and as close to a guarantee of good weather as you’re going to find.

Infiniti is keeping it real with its Project Black S hybrid, based on a Q60 coupe and its V6 engine. Infiniti engineers turned to electrification, and lessons from partner Renault’s Formula 1 team (there’s the French connection) to give the machine an e-boost.

It’s a hybrid, but one that delivers performance rather than economy. The three motors add 213 horsepower to bring the total to 563, and drop the 0-60 mph time to under four seconds.

Toyota didn’t use the Paris show to unveil radical new concepts, but did introduce a term that will be new to most buyers: self-charging hybrids. This is no magical perpetual motion-type technology: Self-charging hybrids are just cars that can run on battery power, but can’t be plugged in. The type Toyota has been selling for years with the Prius, when they used to be just called “hybrids.” As they’ve gone from being radical, to commonplace, to somewhat lame given the influx of more robust electric options, Toyota is looking to rebrand to remind people that the tech is still quite clever, and does save fuel.

Physicists Condemn Sexism Through ‘Particles for Justice’

This week, of all weeks, should have been triumphant for women in physics. For her work on lasers, Canadian physicist Donna Strickland became the first female Nobel Laureate for the field after 55 years. She finally joined a short list consisting of just two other women, Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert-Mayer.

But Seyda Ipek barely had time to celebrate. The UC Irvine physicist was preoccupied: A dumpster fire had just erupted in a neighboring corner of physics culture.

Just days before the Nobels, at a workshop on gender issues in physics in Geneva, physicist Alessandro Strumia of the University of Pisa delivered a presentation about how physics discriminates against men. (Women make up 18 percent of all physics doctoral degrees worldwide, according to a survey by the American Physical Society.) Case in point: a hiring committee had once picked a woman over him, he said. Before an audience of young physicists, many of them women, he explained how men like working with things, and women like working with people. He proposed an experiment to support his belief that physics has biological roots: measure the ratio between the second and fourth fingers on the hands of women physicists, an indication of testosterone exposure in the uterus.

Ipek, who wasn’t at the workshop herself, heard about Strumia’s presentation through her Facebook community. “I immediately got enraged and started tweeting about it,” she says. “He was telling a group of young woman physicists that they were inferior to their male colleagues. This was just mind-boggling. I couldn’t believe that Strumia did this—that he used his platform this way, that he used his title this way. I was like, no. I will not stand by idly while you do this.”

Her outrage quickly spread on Twitter. She and 17 other physicists decided that they needed to publicly denounce Strumia’s presentation. Last weekend, they created a Slack channel to coordinate their response. Through the channel, the group, which includes about equal numbers of men and women at various points in their careers, discussed how to refute Strumia’s arguments, trading thousands of messages in a matter of days to debate word choice and syntax. “I don’t think any of us slept more than 4 or 5 hours a day in the last week,” says Ipek.

It was important to respond, says physicist Djuna Croon, so that younger female physicists explicitly knew that established members of the community didn’t condone Strumia’s ideas. “I know from experience how difficult it is to deal with impostor syndrome,” says Croon, who works for TRIUMF, a particle accelerator in Canada and received her PhD in 2017. “I just think of myself from a few years ago. If these statements had been unopposed, it would have been a huge hit for me.” As a student, Croon recalls a physics teacher joking that women belong “in the kitchen,” and that people would encourage her to go into medicine, even though she excelled in physics.

In on an online letter, which they call Particles for Justice, they push back on the arguments, point by point, in Strumia’s presentation. They dug into Strumia’s personal anecdote of getting passed over for an opportunity in favor of a woman. His publications had been cited more often than hers, he’d said. “He reduces the quality of a scientist to one number, that scientist’s citations,” says Croon. “There is so much more to a scientist, and to the hiring process, than that one number.” Citations can be particularly misleading as a metric of a physicist’s ability: about a third of Strumia’s publications are papers written by gigantic collaborations of more than a thousand people. In these papers, “we can safely conclude his contribution […] was modest,” they write in the letter.

They published the document on Thursday evening after recruiting signatures from about 200 physicists. They also created a form so that physicists could keep signing the letter after publication. Within a day of publication, 1,400 more academics submitted signatures. “I’m not remembering the last time, as a community, we really jumped up like this,” says physicist Brian Nord of Fermilab, who signed the letter.

Strumia’s lecture is only the latest example in a long list of recent sexist controversies in physics. In 2014, British astronomer Matt Taylor went on television wearing a button-down shirt covered in cartoon drawings of half-dressed women, later dubbed #Shirtgate. In 2016, Nobel Laureate Barry Barish, who won the 2017 Nobel Prize for helping discover gravitational waves, delivered a presentation with a slide that showed a man writing on a woman’s bare back. A YouTube video starring one of this year’s Nobel Laureates, Gérard Mourou, shows him dancing in a lab surrounded by scantily clad female students.

Despite these high-profile controversies, some scientists still don’t believe systemic sexism or racism exists in their field, says Nord. “Humans in this world experience all kinds of discrimination,” he says. “Just because we’re the scientific community doesn’t mean we’re separate from that larger conversation. It’s important that the world understands this, that scientists understand this.”

But in response to these cultural missteps, scientists tend to keep their head down and tell each other to focus on the science. But this is a mistake, says Ipek. “I really dislike it when people say, ‘You’re a scientist. Why do you care about these things?’” she says. “I work here. It’s a workplace first. Workplaces need respectful relationships.”

They’re optimistic that the letter will have a lasting impact. CERN, which organized the workshop, issued a statement calling Strumia’s presentation “highly offensive,” and suspended their relationship with Strumia on Monday. “I am tired and frustrated and ready for big change,” says Nord.

“I had to put a halt on research,” says Ipek. “I couldn’t work on anything this week. That’s bad.” Research isn’t the only thing demanding work these days—so is the culture of physics itself.


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​Red Hat Satellite integrated new, improved Ansible DevOps

When Linux’s sysadmin graybeards got their start, they all used the shell to manage systems. Years later, they also used system administration programs such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)‘s Red Hat Satellite and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES)‘s YaST. Then, DevOps programs, like Ansible, Chef, and Puppet, appeared so we can manage hundreds of servers at once. Now, Red Hat is bridging the gap between the old-style server management tools and DevOps with Red Hat Satellite 6.4.

This new management tool comes with a deeper integration with Red Hat Ansible Automation automation-centric approach to IT management. This enables sysadmins to use the Red Hat Satellite interface to manage RHEL with Ansible’s remote execution and desired state management. This integration will help identify critical risks, create enterprise change plans, and automatically generate Ansible playbooks.

Also: How Red Hat’s strategy helps CIOs take baby steps to the cloud TechRepublic

Red Hat claimed, “This exciting integration is designed to help not only identify critical risks but then create enterprise change plans and automatically generate Ansible playbooks to better remediate those risks.”

The updated Red Hat Satellite also comes with these new features:

  • Redesigned user interface for easier navigation and improved auditing of user events.
  • Increased supportability including the ability to provision in AWS GovCloud and custom configuration preservation.
  • Enhanced performance including RHEL Performance Co-Pilot integration and general stability fixes.

Red Hat Satellite 6.4 will be available later in October through the Red Hat Customer Portal.

But that’s only the start of Red Hat’s DevOps and sysadmin news. Red Hat is also introducing a Red Hat Ansible Automation Certification Program to deliver tested, trusted, and supported Ansible Playbooks.

These certified Playbooks, from Red Hat and its partners, will provide everything you need to automate your infrastructure, networks, containers, and deployments. Besides Red Hat’s offerings, Cisco, CyberArk, F5 Networks, Infoblox, NetApp, and Nokia will offer 275 Ansible modules in the initial release.

These Playbooks, Modules and Plugins are scanned against known vulnerabilities, checked for compatibility, and validated to work in production. These will have a similar lifecycle to Ansible Engine. They’ll also be regularly re-evaluated for certification qualification and are fully-backed with Red Hat’s support.

Also: From Linux to cloud, why Red Hat matters for every enterprise

If you’re using Ansible and RHEL and you don’t want to build your own Playbooks, this new offering is a must.

Looking ahead, Red Hat is adding automated security capabilities, such as enterprise firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and security information and event management (SIEM) to Ansible.

In 2019, Ansible will include the following security features:

  • Detection and triage of suspicious activities: Automatically configure logging across enterprise firewalls and IDS,
  • Threat hunting: Automatically create new IDS rules to investigate the origin of a firewall rule violation and whitelist non-threatening IP addresses.
  • Incident response: Ansible will be able to automatically validate a threat by verifying an IDS rule, trigger a remediation from the SIEM solution and create new enterprise firewall rules to blacklist the source of an attack.

It will do this, in part, by integrating Check Point Next Generation Firewall (NGFW); Splunk Enterprise Security; and Snort, the open-source IDS program.

Joe Fitzgerald, Red Hat Business Management VP, explained in a statement:

“Since

Red Hat acquired Ansible in 2015, we have been working to make the automated enterprise a reality by driving Ansible into new domains and expanding automation use cases. With the new Ansible security automation capabilities, we’re making it easier to manage one of enterprise IT’s most complex tasks: systems security. These new modules can help users take an automation-centric approach to IT security, integrating solutions that otherwise would not work together and helping to manage and orchestrate entire security operations with a single, familiar tool.”

It sounds good to me. We’ll see early next year how well Red Hat delivers on this promise.

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