Last week on the Linux Kernel Mailing List, a minor question was raised about the suitability of certain magic constants in the support code in the Linux kernel for Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualisation environment. This was widely reported a week later. So how did a hexadecimal string cause so much offence? Well, it turns out that the constant passed through to the hypervisor was 0xB16B00B5, or in English, BIG BOOBS. And this was not an exception: when the code was originally submitted it also contained 0x0B00B135 (BOOBIES). While this looks to be a puerile joke, it could be potentially problematic because Azure (Microsoft’s cloud computing platform) may depend on this constant, so changing it could break things.
Even though the Linux kernel itself contains a fair amount of profanity, Microsoft swiftly apologised: “We thank the community for reporting this issue and apologize for the offensive string. We have submitted a patch to fix this issue and the change will be published in a future release of the kernel.” (in fact, the patch changed the string to its decimal representation: 2976579765). However, as Matthew Garrett notes on his blog, this can be easily attributed to straightforward childish humour (and the use of pseudo-English strings in magic hexadecimal constants is hardly uncommon; you can even generate hex poetry, if you so wish), but sniggering at breasts contributes to the continuing impression that software development is a boys club where girls are not welcome.
I’m more concerned about strings like “nsa_backdoor” Can we all honestly say we’ve never spelled “5318008” (or some similar word) on a digital calculator and turned it upside-down? I used to race a class of gaff-rigged dinghy that had a rope on it called a “tit”. Did this mean women were not welcome in sailing? You’re right it’s puerile, but I don’t think it’s worth paying too much mind to…I’m sure there are other naughty words buried in their source code…
Yes – I’ve done that with a calculator at school, and found many more words besides! Are women not welcome in shops which stock lad mags either? Should I be “put off” Tesco for stocking The Sun/Nuts magazine/etc.? That would mean I’d have have to go about 3 towns away to shop! In my opinion – the whole thing should never have raised anything more than a smirk and a snigger – never mind all the media coverage.
If a women states that this kind of thing puts her off Computing – I think she either needs to get a sense of humour, or was never going to get involved in the first place. There’s nothing stopping women putting in a few gags of their own. 0xB16B4115 perhaps…
I think I’m with Tom – software developers, computer scientists, mathematicians and engineers (in short, STEM professionals) have a bad enough reputation as it is for poor social skills, the worst aspects of geekiness and nerdiness, that we risk putting genuinely talented off these career choices for good.
I work in a field where basic social skills are paramount and yet rare: the more diverse a selection of people we work with, the easier our working lives become. More than this, the better we do our jobs.
Every little thing that strengthens the stereotype decreases the chance, however slightly, of encouraging a more diverse workforce to take up STEM. No matter how trivial each incident like this might seem, we massively shoot ourselves in the foot with each one.
Personally, I think Matthew Garrett has potentially done more damage than good. He’s also assuming all women are heterosexual AND we don’t have a sense of humour!
Working in IT and the only female in a team of 8, some employers may not have employed me to save themselves from a potential sexual harassment case. I feel the media storm surrounding Mr Garret’s post will push this reluctance further in to employers minds.
Blog posts such as Mr Garrett’s are the ones that keep reinforcing the stereotypes not the STEM industry, employers or the individuals writing silly bits of code to brighten up their dull day.
I’ve had another think about this, and while I feel it has been blown way out of proportion (it’s just a hexadecimal code!), I think it indicates a wider issue in the tech world.
More worrying examples include harassment of females at conferences such as DEFCON and Readercon.
Perhaps. It’s sort of a “society” problem however, and won’t change overnight. I think that it is well on its way out, but there is enough still there to make a song and dance about occasionally. In 8 years of front-line tech support (and the only female in the office), I’ve been mistaken for a secretary more than once (despite sure as hell not dressing like one!). I even had one old guy be quite insistent that he was “here to speak to one of the men. It’s a technical problem you see…”. In each case – I firmly yet politely changed their perception myself, and they were quite happy to deal with me in future.
In the case of the conference harassments – the completely unacceptable acts of a couple of weirdos appear to have tainted an entire industry, where the majority of conference go-ers had seemingly behaved themselves quite reasonably. I know that conferences are supposed to be “professional” events – however that kind of behaviour is unacceptable anyway – not just because it’s at a conference.
On a more general note – I do worry sometimes that while trying so earnestly to close the gender gap in Computing – there is a risk of creating a whole new one where men start to fear dealing with women in case some daft remark or joke (such as the hex code thing) gets blown out of proportion and makes the news or results in some kind of disciplinary action etc. I don’t want to work in a world where people feel that they have to tiptoe around me. I used to get taken the mick out of loads for being female – but then I’d take the mick back because they were fat, partially sighted and refused to wear glasses, rubbish at scripting, fainted at the sight of blood etc. etc.
Personally, I’m much more offended by the fact that XBox Avatar Marketplace stocks 30 ice hockey jerseys and 10 Batman outfits for male avatars, and zero such items for female avatars! If my local fancy-dress shop refused to sell me a Batman outfit based on my gender – I’d kick off big time – so why should I accept it from a digital store? Now THAT has me narked off….
Also, see this interesting blog post by Athene Donald (Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge): I Am Not A Bimbo.