Google’s Position on Flash is as Bad as Apple’s

Steve Jobs has been remarkably talkative of late. Most recently, he posted Thoughts on Flash and before that has randomly (yet tersely) replied to seemingly random emails.

Jobs actually makes some interesting points in this post but there is something hysterically funny about Apple criticizing Flash for not being “open” (as Bart would say, the ironing is delicious) but once you get past that, comments about video decoding in software, battery life, etc all fit in Jobs’ famous unwavering commitment to his product vision. The battery performance of the iPad and Macbooks are almost legendary.

Lack of Flash has become a rallying cry for iphone malcontents and Android proponents of late. Barely a day goes by that Buzz Out Loud, particularly for Molly Wood and Jason Howell. Such people typically praise Google’s openness with its adoption of Flash.

Last month, Google announced a partnership with Adobe, one effect of which is that Flash will be bundled with Chrome (and later Chrome OS).

This got me thinking. I don’t like Flash. I don’t want it in my browser. Flash tends to be abused (by advertisers). Some have used Flash to restore deleted tracking cookies, which is a huge privacy (even security) concern.

I have previously tried to remove Flash from Chrome (my preferred browser). You can remove it but then every page you go to tells you you’re missing necessary plug-ins and asks if you want to install them. Is there an option to disable this message/request? No.

As of Chrome 3 extensions have come to the rescue and Flashblock is a must-have. Still, this solution is not completely satisfactory. Some Web sites will put extra Flash widgets (sometimes as small as a pixel) to defeat Flash blockers. Click on one of these regions/pixels and you’ve just run some Flash you probably didn’t mean to run.

I can understand the criticisms of Apple’s position even though I personally want to see Flash die a horribly fiery death. But Google isn’t giving me a choice either. Instead of allowing me to have Flash if I wish, it’s forcing me to have Flash whether I like it or not (and, trust me, I don’t).

Now that Youtube has HTML5 video, I don’t need Flash for anything. Why won’t Google give me that choice?

How to Resign Gracefully

An engineer resigned this week from an LA startup. This otherwise insignificant event turned into a big story when that engineer posted the exchange with his boss on his blog. It’s a lesson in human nature and how to comport oneself in a business environment.

Background

The resignation of an engineer from Mahalo and the subsequent email exchange between that engineer and the CEO, high profile Jason Calacanis, became news this week. It all started with this tweet:

Free advice for entitled Gen Y trophy kids: if you spend 12 months at a company over and over you look like a flake.

The “trophy kid” remark refers to a previous statement by Jason about the trend of Gen-Y now getting trophies or awards for participation, basically for just showing up.

This prompted prominent venture capitalist and host of This Week In Venture Capital host Mark Suster tweeted:

.@jason @tonyadam - I never hire job hoppers. Never. They never make good employees. Jason was spot on.

and then posted the somewhat controversial Never Hire Job Hoppers. Never. They Make Terrible Employees, which was later tempered with Job Hoppers Redux: An Employee’s Perspective.

It became clear that this referred to the resignation of one Evan Culver when he posted the email exchange on his blog (now removed). TechCrunch posted the exchange in How Not To Handle A Resignation Gracefully, which has triggered a firestorm of response, much of it directed at Jason and allegedly much of it has been removed by the moderators.

The Facts

Evan’s email says:

This isn’t an easy email to write, but as the subject suggests, this email is to inform you of my resignation from Mahalo effective in 2 weeks.

This email was sent to Jacob Burch (Director of Technology), Jeff Ammons (Developer) and Jason. It appears Jason was out of the office (his reply is from his Blackberry) and it’s alleged in the TechCrunch comments that Evan resigned to the CTO (Mark Jeffrey).

California is an at-will employment state so barring any relevant contractual terms, no notice was required to quit and no reason is required to fire someone (barring legal issues such as discrimination).

Evan’s email was polite but otherwise perfunctory.

Jason addresses this issue in This Week In Startups #49 saying that he liked the guy, two weeks prior he had been promoted into a management position.

That being said, let me give you some advice.

Showing Up Is Not Enough

It’s about what you do, what you’re achieved. Nobody cares if you simply showed up. This is the tragedy of the modern education system in that it rewards participation not winning. Whether it be children, employees or whatever you are doing them a huge disservice and creating an entitlement culture.

You Will Get Yelled At

A lot of comments on TechCrunch revolved around being treated badly. If you’re lucky you have a boss that’s passionate about what they’re doing. If so, such bosses will get heated and yell because they care.

Getting treated badly is actually having a boss who is completely indifferent. At that point you’re simply a square on an org chart and a line item on a budget, utterly expendable and replaceable.

This shouldn’t be taken as carte blanche for employee abuse but nor should isolated incidents of being yelled at be taken for abuse.

Man Up (In Person)

Apologists will argue that in the age of modern communication, it’s OK to resign by email. Let me be absolutely clear: it absolutely is not.

You walk into your boss’s office and say “I’m not happy because of …” or “I’ve been offered this opportunity to do …” or whatever the case is. Give your boss a chance to respond. This isn’t about making a play for more money. It’s about respect. Even if you have no intention of staying, just by giving your boss a chance to respond and to do in person, you’ve shown that person the respect they probably deserve.

They’re not in the office? You wait a few days until they are. They new job can’t way? Bullshit. Or, if true, it’s a good sign that it’s an organization you don’t want to work for because they don’t care about you.

Most of all, be honest. If it’s more money you want or need, say so. If you simply don’t like it where you are or you think it’s a mistake, say so.

A Startup is not a Large Company

The vast majority of startups are small. That means that each person is much more valuable and much harder to replace. What’s more, most employees will have some kind of equity stake in the company. Contrast this to a large company where you tend to be a small cog in a very large machine and infinitely replaceable. You can’t compare the two experiences.

Chris Dixon posted Twelve months notice:

Generally speaking, there are two approaches to relating to other people in the business world. The first approach is transactional and legalistic:  work is primarily an exchange of labor for money, and agreements are made via contracts.   Enforcement is provided by organizations, especially the legal system.  The second approach relies on trust, verbal agreements, reputation and norms, and looks to the community to provide enforcement when necessary.

In the startup world, the latter approach dominates…

For this reason, if you are an employee working at a startup where the managers are honest, inclusive and fair, you should disregard everything you’ve learned about proper behavior from people outside of the startup world.

So ignore any comments about the “at-will” issue. It’s irrelevant.

Never Ever Embarrass Your Boss

This is Evan’s biggest faux pas: posting the email exchange on his blog. Note the self satisfied:

I should note, that instead of responding, he instead removed my email account. Real pro of him. Good thing I forwarded it to myself first :P

Make no mistake: this is deplorable behaviour. Had it remained private, which it should’ve, Jason may have calmed down and mellowed about the situation over time. As it stands, he would rightfully be incensed because this has become a news story.

Worse for Evan: any future employer will find this story on a Google search and it makes him look really bad.

Barred From The Office

When someone resigns or is fired it is not uncommon to pay them for their notice period and send them home immediately. Frankly I wish more companies would do this.

Employees that are fired—especially programmers and other IT people—can be a security risk as they can do a lot of damage. That rarely happens but it is an issue. What’s more common is soon-to-be former employees can be disruptive and drain the morale of the team that’s staying. It’s often better to simply tie things off cleanly.

In TWIST #49, Jason also mentioned the salient point that Yahoo (the company Evan is apparently joining) is a competing company to Mahalo. They’re both search companies with Q&A platforms.

Some tried to turn this into an issue about unlawfully withholding belongings. I can guarantee you that if there was anything urgent there (eg prescription medication) that he would’ve gotten that ASAP. Otherwise his stuff would be put in a box and either couriered or delivered to the lobby for his collection in a timely manner.

An employer is well within their rights to bar you from the premises.

A Final Point About Human Nature

There is a key observation you can make from the comments on this about human nature: the majority of people will start with a conclusion and then look for facts to support that conclusion.

A vocal minority really doesn’t like Jason. So what? How is that relevant? You don’t like Mahalo either? How is that relevant? It isn’t. This story for many has simply become another opportunity to bash Jason and grind whatever axe it is you feel the need to grind.

Conclusion

This story that never should’ve been a story is a good opportunity to learn a few lessons about conducting oneself in a professional manner.

The American’s Guide to the Australian Internet Filter

Australia has been in the tech news for all the wrong reasons in the last year: for trying to impose the kind of internet filter used more commonly by dictatorships and communist countries (eg China). Yet this coverage seems to miss the reasons for this so, speaking as an Australian, I will explain.

The Boring Stuff First (yes, it’s relevant!)

Australia’s political system is a mixture of the British Westminster system and the American system. Similar to the United States, Australia has a dual-sovereignty federal system. There are six states and two territories.

The House of Representatives is analogous to Congress. There are 150 seats (or electorates) much like congressional districts. Whichever part has the most seats in the House of Representatives forms government. The leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister, the head of government. In certain cases where no party can form a majority (which can happen with minority parts and independent members) a minority government can form but this isn’t terribly common and tends to be unstable.

The Senate is representation for the states. Each state gets 12 senators and each territory 2, for a total of 76.

The nominal head of state is the Governor General. Officially he or she is the representative of the British monarch. Constitutionally, the Governor-General has several powers but the role is largely ceremonial yet the Governor General can (and has) sacked the government and dissolved Parliament (see the 1975 dismissal of Gough Whitlam). The Prime Minister nominates the Governor General. The British monarch basically rubberstamps that choice.

All 150 seats in the House are contested every election, which occurs approximately every three years. I say “approximately” because whereas the United States has constitutionally mandated election dates, the Prime Minister can ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call an election at any time. It is simply required to happen at least every three years. Snap elections when the government is enjoying a surge in popularity to increase the majority in the House are not uncommon.

The United States and most other countries use a voting system commonly referred to as First Past the Post. If a candidate secures a simple majority, they win. Where this doesn’t happen, often there is a runoff election between the top two candidates.

Australia uses a preferential voting system. You can say on your ballot that your preferences are:

  1. John Smith (Greens)
  2. Mary Miler (ALP)
  3. Gary Mason (Liberal)

What this means is that if your first preference fails to get a simple majority there is an elimination system in place. The candidate with the least first preferences is eliminated. All votes for that candidate go to second preference of each voter and so on until someone has a majority. It’s a remarkably elegant system that means a vote for a minor party is not a wasted vote as it is in the US.

The Senate is a little different. Half the Senate seats are contested each election. In most cases this means six seats in each state. The same preferential system is used but instead of securing a majority a candidate merely needs roughly 14% of the distributed preferences to secure a seat. This means minor parties are represented much more in the Senate.

As in the US, a bill has to be passed by both houses of parliament to become law. There is no powerful executive branch however. Nor is there is a Senate filibuster mechanism.

It’s the Politics, Stupid

Federal Government is currently held by the Australian Labor Party (ALP), which philosophically is most like the Democrats in the United States.

The Republican equivalent is made up of two parties: the Liberal Party and the National Party, which together form what is most often referred to as the Coalition. The National Party hold rural seats (that the Liberal Party does not contest) and is focused on issues that affect “the bush”.

The biggest minor party is the Greens, who are focused on environmental issues.

The Government by definition holds a majority of the House of Representatives so typically it isn’t an issue to pass bills through the HoR yet it can and does happen that members from one party or another cross the floor to vote with the other side allowing the opposition party to pass bills or the government to fail to pass bills.

The Senate has to pass the same bill and here’s where it gets interesting. It is highly unusual for one party to hold a Senate majority because only ~14% of the preferential vote is required to get a Senate seat. Yet this did happen for the previous Coalition government. The current makeup is:

Party Seats
ALP 32
Coalition 37
Greens 5
Independent (no party) 1
Family First 1

In recent years the Senate has held a disproportionate amount of power because the independents and minor parties have held the balance of power.

Assuming the Greens vote with the ALP, which is most often but not always the case, the votes are split 37-37 with 38 required to pass a bill. That means the government needs to attract Nick Xenophon (independent) and Steve Fielding (Family First) to pass bills in a strict party line vote, which happens a lot.

Family First is a relatively new political force in Australia. Their politics are as the name suggests. The Coalition tends to be sensitive to some of the same issues.

This results in a virtual quid pro quo where those holding the balance of power will vote with the Government in exchange for the Government passing legislation friendly to their pet issues. Child safety on the internet and pornography are high on that list.

The previous Coalition of John Howard had a similar phase when Brian Harradine and Mal Colston held the balance of power.

So first and foremost it’s a numbers game.

The Politicians’ Syllogism

ZDNet covered this in Internet filter according to Yes Minister. Politicians—including our so-called Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy—don’t understand the internet. The logic goes something like this:

  1. The internet contains bad things;
  2. A filter can stop bad things;
  3. Therefore we must filter the internet.

I am not kidding. This is the logic.

Conclusion

Coverage on the Web typically comprehends the second point: that politicians generally don’t understand the internet. That explains why a handful want this but it ignores the larger issue that numbers in the Senate is what’s driving this forwards.