Are women less competitive

Some reflections on a blog post at Misbehaving, where Gina reports on a story that women may be less competitive then men.

..women may be less effective than men in competitive environments, even if they are able to perform similarly in noncompetitive environments. In a laboratory experiment we observe, as we increase the competitiveness of the environment, a significant increase in performance for men, but not for women. This results in a significant gender gap in performance in tournaments, while there is no gap when participants are paid accornding to piece rate. This effect is strong when women have to compete against men than in single-sex competitive environments.

On the one hand, I feel plenty competitive with respect to real external goals and opponents. Last year, when EFF-Austin was fighting the motion picture and cable industries on the SDMCA, I was dedicated to defeating a terrible plan to restrict the rights of technology users. I sympathize with the cable and content company’s desire to stop wholesale theft. But no sympathy for the harmful tactics our opponents were pursuing.
Objective goals and deadlines are incentives. Excellence and recognition are incentives. I also like to do a good job, and don’t mind if others notice. (not perfectly noble, but true).
On the other hand, internal competition is a de-motivator. In my job, I participate in a sales team and development team. In contests where one person wins at the expense of teammates, everyone loses.
I’ve worked in companies where the managers came up in a “star system” that rewarded talented players for outshining their peers. This system rewarded players who were good at their job — and at sabotaging others. The result harmed the organization overall. The whole would always be less than the sum of the parts.
The study finds that women do as well as men in a piece-rate performance on tasks, but worse then men when the task is set up as a tournament, where one person wins and the rest loses. I wonder whether the study is based the biased assumption that intra-group zero-sum competition is a good thing, and therefore, men are superior to women if they are better at it.
On the one hand, many organizations in the real world work that way. If women are less interested in defeating their peers, they may be less successful in those organizations.
On the other hand, perhaps organizations that don’t work that way are at a competitive advantage. Organizations where team members co-operate to achieve external goals might succeed as well or better than organizations where team members are at each others’ throats.
That would be an interesting topic for further research.

The Virtual is Real

Just took an online survey for this conference on Virtual Communities. What struck me was the assumption that virtual communities are supplementary to non-virtual communities.
Perhaps this is the old bbs/usenet model, where people gather online to explore new identities; the 20th century equivalent of leaving the small town for New York or Chicago.
But my experience these days is different.
I work with a team that’s spread around the US, working with customers spread around the world. We meet a few times a year. EFF-Austin people communicate daily by email, and interact in person a few times a month. I belong to a book club that meets monthly, and plans using email and wiki.
There is no such thing as a “virtual community.” There are only real communities that meet more or less frequently in person.

Social network for Deadheads

Marc Canter sent around a draft UI for a social networking service for Greatful Dead fanatics. I actively don’t care, and that’s what’s so great about it.
Most online social networks have the life of mayflies, because they are shallow. People gather in groups, post their favorite icons, chit-chat a bit, and move on.
By contrast, the Dead service is deep. The service lets Deadheads relive their roadtrips, using the database of recorded shows on-line at the Internet archives. Members can create a personal timeline of shows, and reconnect with people they met in parking lots and muddy fields.

This timeline would be locked to the DeadBase timeline (both music and event-ology)

Lightbulbs and focus

Little house-holdy things. Just solved a couple of lightbulb problems.
The reason the light fixture in the guest bath wouldn’t take a new bulb was because the lightbulb had exploded, leaving the metal screw bottom in the socket. Unscrewed it, and put in the new lightbulb.
Three of the 50-watt halogen bulbs in the closed-in front porch unscrewed reasonably easily, using some attention to the angle to unscrew them from the recessed tracklight fixture while standing on a stepladder. The fourth (which was the first one I tried last time), unscrewed with some attention, using the geometry from the first three.

Took about 25 minutes and focused attention. Glad to have that kind of time on weekends again.
Anybody know what kind of coating goes on to these halogen things, and what health problems are caused by little flakes of coating falling off?

Tax night

I made a last-minute decision to contribute to an IRA last night. At 7pm, I headed out for the first time to Austin’s main post office. It’s in a suburban office park off 290 on CrossPark Drive. Three or four postal employees stood in the grassy median strip of the office park drive near a few industrial size postal bins, in the balmy, still-light daylight savings pre-sunset, and took envelopes as cars made a slow u-turn around the median strip.
No traffic, no parking, no lines. Wonder if it was that mellow at a quarter to midnight?

I am not an ubergeek

This past weekend, I wrote a little IRC bot that posts to a Socialtext Workspace (wiki/blog).
I wrote the bot because we needed it. The Socialtext crew frequently discussses things on IRC, and we often come up with ideas we want to remember, categorize, work more on later. Every so often, Ed Vielmetti changes his nick to STBot, and promises to post an item.
Coding to scratch an itch is classic geekery, but in other aspects, I fall short of the macho ideal.
* I like making something for people to use, and I’m not in love with infrastructure. I am quite glad that co-conspirators and colleagues get their jollies developing meta-levels of abstraction, achieving mathematical elegance, and solving knotty performance problems.
* I’m thrilled to use tools and models from others. The bot uses the Net::IRC framework, an API widget from Pete Kaminski, and models from jibot and elsewhere. I learned enough about how the tools work to use them.
* I like assembling things from piece parts. The ubergeek ideal is building a system from the ground up; reuse is a pragmatic necessity, but a fall from the ideal.
Surrounded by masters of the art, it is a small thing to be pleased by, but it makes me happy anyway. It wanted to exist, and I was able to make it, rather than casting the idea to the lazyweb and waiting.