Maimonides' levels of charity

This has been kicking around in my “to blog” bucket since July, 2008 when I had many more posts on Charity. I originally copied this from judaism.about.com, and Wikipedia has a version of these too.

Maimonides organized the different levels of tzedakah (charity) into a list from the least to the most honorable.

8. When donations are given grudgingly.

7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.

6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.

5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.

4. When the recipient is aware of the donor’s identity, but the donor does not know the identity of the recipient.

3. When the donor is aware of the recipient’s identity, but the recipient is unaware of the source.

2. When the donor and recipient are unknown to each other.

1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.

To be critical, 8 and 1 are most meaningful to me, and the gradations between the others aren’t particularly strong, though I think 4 and 3 could swap places.


If you can hook them for a day, you can hook them for two

I think this essay has come to mind more often than any other in the past decade of my work as a developer, and sometimes distressingly, in life. From Tim Rogers “who killed videogames? (a ghost story)”:

One click in one of these social games will take the user to the Real-World Money-Costing In-Game-Currency-Unit-Buying Shop. Here, the player will see that the game indeed offers him an option for paying $100 for something which is not real: an in-game currency with which to buy things in the game.

At the time he makes the conscious decision to wait for his energy to refill, the player likely already knows that “micro”-transactions exist which have $100 price-tags. Now he learns how much energy costs — usually, it’s nowhere near $100, or even $10.

Do players buy energy? What sorts of players buy energy? The short answer is: actual idiots. The long answer is: people who don’t understand why they have so much real-world money.

In social games, energy doesn’t exist to be bought. It exists as an engagement-regulating filter. The player attaches to it some vague notion of “value”. Backward-like, he comes to associate waiting an hour in the real world before coming back to the game with “working” and “earning” the “value” of the thing the game is giving him for “free”.

This isn’t exactly a truthful impression. The impression the player should take away — and gets confused about — is that in social games, time is a currency. Time is what you use to buy energy. Energy is a currency for purchasing in-game money, and some less-abstract in-game currencies (the premium in-game currency which the player must use real money to purchase) and more-abstract in-game currencies (namely virality and chance) can be used to purchase energy directly.

Energy’s multiple conversion rates into multiple in-game currencies mystify the idea of time as a currency.

The old idiom “time is money” has many meanings, you see.

“Energy” is a money that literally directly represents time.

…It’s a compulsion trap.


Dying on management mountain

From First, break all the rules:

Managers were encouraged to focus on complex initiatives like reengineering or learning organizations, without spending time on the basics. The stages on the mountain reveal that if the employee doesn’t know what is expected of him as an individual (Base Camp), then you shouldn’t ask him to get excited about playing on a team (Camp 2). If he feels as though he is in the wrong role (Camp 1), don’t pander to him by telling him how important his innovative ideas are to the company’s reengineering efforts (Camp 3). If he doesn’t know what his manager thinks of him as an individual (Camp 1), don’t confuse him by challenging him to become part of the new “learning organization” (Camp 3). Don’t helicopter in at seventeen thousand feet, because sooner or later you and your people will die on the mountain.

And a quote about performing the performance:

A manager has got to remember that he is on stage every day. His people are watching him. Everything he does, everything he says, and the way he says it, sends off clues to his employees. These clues affect performance. So never forget you are on that stage.


Triangular eating

I have been practicing triangular eating after reading this blog post from The School Lunch Project in 2010:

Triangular Eating (sankaku-tabe)

(ex.) Main dish → Rice or Bread or Pasta →Soup →Main dish → Rice or Bread or Pasta → Soup….

In Japan, we usually learn how to eat food in triangular patterns when we were little kids. We usually learn it preschool age to elementary school age. When we start school lunch, it is the time to learn how to eat. It is kind of Japanese food culture, so teacher don’t go too strict nowadays. Kids don’t have to eat in triangular way, but many Japanese do triangular eating because we learn when school lunch time.

I would like to tell about the triangular way of eating. So, you have to make sure it is in triangular order. This is good practice in learning know how to eat a balanced meal by yourself. I think you can arrange this as square, pentagon and so on. Please go ahead add a salad or a side dish. As time goes by, if I have meat or fish, I automatically want to eat rice, then I start to want to eat vegetables. Isn’t it nice?

Also, triangular way could be give you rhythm and let your mouth reset. You can imagine wine and cheese. It is work well for harmony too.


Better by our own standards

This book review in the New Yorker of Charles King’s “Gods of the Upper Air” has been kicking about my brain for a long while, especially in regards to the phrase “variations within groups are greater than variations between groups” concretely in my work on accessibility, diversity, equity and inclusion.

The evidence proved, Boas said, “the plasticity of human types.” It also showed that variations within groups are greater than variations between groups.

Boas devoted his life to showing people that the science they were relying on was bad science. “He believed the world must be made safe for differences,” Ruth Benedict wrote when Boas died.

It’s true that Boas and Benedict spoke of “relativity,” and that at the end of “Patterns of Culture” Benedict refers to “coexisting and equally valid patterns of life which mankind has created for itself from the raw materials of existence.” But everything else in Benedict’s book contradicts the assertion that all cultures are “equally valid.” The whole point is to judge which practices, others’ or our own, seem to produce the kind of society we want. The anthropological mirror has a moral purpose.

The term “culture” is responsible for some of the confusion. We think that to call something part of a group’s culture is to excuse it from judgment. We say, That’s just the lens through which people in that society view the world. It’s not for us to tell them what to think. Our ways are not better, only different. What it all boils down to (to paraphrase Montaigne) is: We wear pants; they do not. That would be relativism.

But to say that a belief or a practice is culture-relative is not to place it beyond judgment. The whole force of Boasian anthropology is the demonstration that racial prejudice is cultural. The belief that some races are superior and some inferior is learned; it has no basis in biology. It is therefore subject to criticism.

Boas spent his entire life telling people that intolerance is wrong. King says that cultural anthropology pushes us to expand our notion of the human. That may be so, but it has nothing to do with relativism. King’s anthropologists are prescriptivists. They are constantly telling us to unlearn one way of living in order to learn a way that is better by our own standards.


The five ideals explained

I previously posted the The Three Ways from The Phoenix Project. Here are the Five Ideals from The Unicorn Project, by way of Gene Kim’s IT Revolution blog:

The First Ideal: Locality and Simplicity

We need to design things so that we have locality in our systems and the organizations that build them. We need simplicity in everything we do. This ideal relates to the degree to which a development team can make local code changes in a single location without impacting various teams. The last place we want complexity is internally, whether it’s in our code, in our organization, or in our processes.

The Second Ideal: Focus, Flow, and Joy

The Second Ideal is all about how our daily work feels. Is our work marked by boredom and waiting for other people to get things done on our behalf? Do we blindly work on small pieces of the whole, only seeing the outcomes of our work during deployment when everything blows up, leading to firefighting, punishment, and burnout? Or do we work in small batches, ideally single-piece flow, getting fast and continual feedback on our work? These are the conditions that allow for focus and flow, challenge, learning, discovery, mastering our domain, and even joy. This is what being a developer means.

The Third Ideal: Improvement of Daily Work

The Third Ideal addresses paying down technical debt and improving architecture. When technical debt is treated as a priority and paid down and architecture is continuously improved and modernized, teams can work with flow, delivering better value sooner, safer, and happier. And the business ultimately wins when developers can deliver on enterprise performance goals.

The Fourth Ideal: Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is one of the top predictors of team performance. When team members feel safe to talk about problems, problems can not only be fixed but prevented. Solving problems requires honesty, and honesty requires an absence of fear. In knowledge work, psychological safety should be treated with the same importance as physical safety is in manufacturing.

The Fifth Ideal: Customer Focus

Customer focus relates to the difference between core and context as defined by Geoffrey Moore. Core is what customers are willing and able to pay for, the bread and butter of your business. Context is what they don’t care about, what it took to get them that product, including all the backend systems of an organization like HR and marketing and development. It’s critical to look at these Context systems as essential, as mission critical, and fund them appropriately. Context should never kill core.

And a shorter version that’s less engineer focused from “DevOps: A Primer For The Business Leader”:

  • Locality and Simplicity: alleviate dependencies between teams and components.
  • Focus, Flow, and Joy: the smooth flow of work that enables focus and joy.
  • Improvement of Daily Work: continuously improve and pay down technical debt.
  • Psychological Safety: a top predictor of team performance; enables improvement.
  • Customer Focus: optimize for customer value, not for a role-based silo.

The furthest to go in efforts to reach their full humanity

Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty writing in a “Mama Lila Cabbil Tribute: Pushing Us Toward Deeper Thought, Still”, published in Riverwise Magazine.

Through my organizing and teaching, I have asked that anti-racist circles step away from performative testimonials of privilege for whites and lack of privilege for Black and Brown people. I have asked that all allies move from ally-ship towards co-liberation, with the belief that we can only make systemic change if we understand our liberation is tied up with one another’s. My historical and current analysis of this moment pushes me to interrogate the notion that (most) white people “benefit” from their forced relationship with white supremacy.

I have asked that white allies (aspiring co-liberators) seek to understand the impact that the myth of white superiority and the system of white supremacy has had on their own communities. I have asked them to deal with school shootings in their communities, opioid abuse, domestic violence, and rising incidents of suicide. I have asked them if they truly believe what they say when they testify to their privilege.

For many, this way of thinking may not appear to answer the questions that plague Black and Brown people in America. However, I am of the mindset that a dehumanized being cannot see another as fully human. I am of the mindset that the white children who are shooting up schools have fallen victim to trying to live up to the myth of white superiority.

White men, even in progressive circles, are taught they are superior to white women, Black women, and every other living being on the planet. What would it mean for the anti-racism movement to teach white men that they have the furthest to go in efforts to reach their full humanity? What would it look like if they don’t enter spaces acting inherently superior (privileged), but rather with a lot of work to do to shed the legacy of violence that comes with their perception of superiority?


The sublime

From Susan Casey’s The wave:

Teahupoo, with its timeless power, brought to mind the age-old philosophical quest to distinguish between beauty and its twisted cousin, the sublime: for the merely pretty to graduate to the sublime, terror was required in the mix. “The Alps fill the mind with a kind of agreeable horror,” wrote one seventeenth-century thinker, summing up the concept. And while humans were capable of creating the lovely, the dramatic, the sad, or the inspiring, only nature could produce the sublime. It was a concept both comforting and disturbing: there are many things out there more powerful than we are. No one was more aware of this than the men who’d ridden Teahupoo on this day (except, perhaps, the ones who had fallen on it).


Centering Civic Tech

From Cyd Harrell’s excellent “A Civic Technoligists Practice Guide”, via a Twitter convo, reformatted by me:

Because its goal is change, civic tech embodies an interesting split between demonstrating and operationalizing the potential of modern tech. I like to call these two branches showing what’s possible and doing what’s necessary. Many projects are a mix of the two, but they require different mindsets.

“Showing what’s possible” is about speed, prototyping, design, public feedback, and data. These are often web projects because web tools are great for those purposes.

“Doing what’s necessary,” on the other hand, is about shifting the underlying practices and systems: back-end systems, security, and procurement; hiring and team composition; even shifting budget priorities.”

[…]

But our job as civic technologists isn’t to be the hero of the stories we stumble into halfway through; it’s to understand and support the people who have already been in place doing the work, and who want to use tech to make improvements.

They line up with Code for America’s pillars of “Show what’s possible”, “Help people do it themselves” and “Build a movement” (though the latter is rather more grandiose than understand and support).

As we called these in my previous career, Direct Service, Capacity Building, and Roy Johnson (“Put some gratitude in your attitude!”).


GoodJob v1.3: Web dashboard and full documentation

GoodJob version 1.3 is released. GoodJob is a multithreaded, Postgres-based, ActiveJob backend for Ruby on Rails. If you’re new to GoodJob, read the introductory blog post.

GoodJob’s v1.3 release adds a mountable Web Dashboard and improved README documentation and complete code-level YARD documentation.

Version 1.3’s release comes five weeks after v1.2 and three months after GoodJob’s initial v1.0 release.

Shoutouts 🙌

GoodJob has accepted contributions from 9 people total, and currently has 559 stars on Github. The project just passed 150 combined Issues and Pull Requests.

I’m grateful for everyone who has reached out to me on Ruby on Rails Link Slack (@bensheldon) and Twitter (@bensheldon)🙏

Mountable web dashboard

GoodJob v1.3 adds a web dashboard for exploring and visualizing job status and queue health.

GoodJob Dashboard MVP

The web dashboard is implemented as an optional Rails::Engine and includes charts and lists of pending jobs.

I expect the web dashboard to be a hot area of ongoing improvement. This initial release contains a minimum functional interface, a chart, and some necessities like keyset pagination. The dashboard is familiar to develop (Rails Controllers, ERB Views and ActiveRecord), and I’ve adopted Bootstrap CSS and Chartist to ease and speed development.

Improved documentation

GoodJob’s README has been edited and rewritten for clarity and comprehensiveness, and GoodJob’s implementation code is now thoroughly documented with YARD.

Good documentation is vital for open source projects like GoodJob. I worked with Rob Brackett, who consults on complex software and open source challenges.

Upcoming

In the next release, v1.4, I plan to continue adding views and charts to the web dashboard and improving thread management.

Contribute

Code, documentation, and curiosity-based contributions are welcome! Check out the GoodJob Backlog, comment on or open a Github Issue, or make a Pull Request.

I also have a GitHub Sponsors Profile if you’re able to support GoodJob and me monetarily. It helps me stay in touch and send you project updates too.